It’s interesting that Asghar Farhadi’s movies are appreciated by so many people from so many different countries since they address legal and cultural matters so specific to Iran. In fact, I’ve often had problems navigating his plots because I’ve missed the meaning of social niceties that Iranians likely take for granted, but in a way that’s also what makes his films so compelling. As you learn how these matters play out in Iranian society the dramatic contours of his stories make more sense. His latest work also focuses on a peculiarity of Iranian law, debtors prisons (which exists in other countries but probably in different ways), but for once the paradox is immediately understood. A creditor can demand that the person who owes them money be thrown in jail until they pay up, but, of course, how can the debtor come up with the cash while they’re locked up?
That’s exactly Rahim’s (Amir Jadidi) problem. He owes his ex-brother-in-law, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), a large sum, which he borrowed to pay off some loan sharks. For some reason, Bahram holds a grudge against Rahim and seems to prefer he stay in jail indefinitely. When Rahim is given a two-day provisional release to pay off at least some of the debt, Bahram is not happy. Rahim’s girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust), has found a bag on the street with some gold coins in it, and she and Rahim think they can use the money for a down payment, but when they try to hock the coins they find they’re not worth as much as they thought, so Rahim endeavors to find the owner of the bag. His jailers, informed of this act of seeming selflessness, see some PR benefits and declare Rahim a hero on social media, but Bahram is suspicious. In any case, he rejects Rahim’s payback plan and demands he go back to prison.
As usual, Farhadi’s plotting sometimes gets away from him, but the subtle ways that Rahim’s reputation rises and then inevitably falls is carefully engineered so that his character flaws stand out. It’s not saying much that Rahim is not hero material to begin with, but his main problem is his lack of a forceful personality, and for much of the movie you wonder what Farkhondeh, who seems much more resourceful, sees in him. Similarly, though Bahram’s intransigence pegs him as the villain of this tale, his reasons eventually emerge. Like other Farhadi stories this one hinges on inter- and intra-family tensions, especially those brought about through marriage. I still don’t get a lot of the motivation that propels the plot, but I think I’m getting the hang of Iran’s social dynamics.
In Farsi. Now playing in Tokyo at Cine Switch Ginza (03-3561-0707), Bunkamura Le Cinema Shibuya (03-3477-9264), Shinjuku Cine Qualite (03-3352-5645).
A Hero home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2021 Memento Production-Asghar Farhadi Production-Arte France Cinema