Should a man be accorded celebrity status for a basic act of courtesy? Should he be cancelled for his minor miscalculations of the past when this present good deed has the potential to redeem him? These are just two of the many questions posed by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi’s latest feature, A Hero. One can’t help but think of the helpless bill poster Antonio Ricci from Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves while looking at the desperate debtor in A Hero.
The main character, Rahim Soltani (Amir Jadidi), loses something that doesn’t belong to him and, in the process, loses his dignity when the opposite was supposed to happen. He regains it briefly before losing it again. Farhadi puts Rahim through the wringer until he reaches a breaking point and makes things worse than they already were.
A Hero can be seen as a spiritual sequel to Farhadi’s About Elly, considering how the disappearance of a woman triggers the events in both films. It provokes a character and morality study and invites you to put yourself in Rahim’s shoes and imagine how you would react in the same circumstances. Unlike in About Elly, this woman is not one of the main characters.
But her single scene appearance becomes a catalyst for a chain of events that turns into a litmus test for several of the film’s characters. It’s not just Rahim who is affected here. When his stuttering son, his doting girlfriend, and a large community becomes involved in turning Rahim’s life around, the negative impact created by an act of carelessness has far-reaching consequences.
A Hero arrives at a time when unchecked cancel culture is becoming the order of the day. And Farhadi makes social media a participant in Rahim’s ‘trial’ by individuals who suspect his motives. (It should be noted that a student of Farhadi has accused him of plagiarising the core idea of A Hero from her documentary All Winners, All Losers.
If true, the irony is amusing.) Farhadi is careful not to get too attached to his characters, and it seems he doesn’t want us to either. He throws multiple perspectives at us. He presents evaluations of Rahim by other characters while he is in their presence. We can only judge Rahim by the look on his face, which is marked occasionally by innocence or indecisiveness.
Every character around Rahim gives us their version of what he did or what they think he did, and Farhadi leaves us with the challenge of making our own conclusion after listening to each. But it’s not easy to reach a verdict even after sifting through the story’s thick conundrums and intense confrontations. We wait for Farhadi to reach his own conclusion so that we can later reflect, in peace, on the way he chose to end his film. And what an ending it is! A Hero has the most memorable finale that I have seen since Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.
Through simple composition, Farhadi shows the present and future simultaneously. He holds on to the frame for a good while, letting us absorb the lingering bittersweetness. Aside from the ending, I found myself strongly affected by two other moments in A Hero: Rahim’s son offering his meagre pocket money to save his father and a benevolent taxi driver offering to help out the latter after learning that they share a similar history.
A Hero finds Farhadi at his best since 2016’s The Salesman. Every great film of his is an immensely gratifying, rejuvenating experience for film buffs looking to cleanse their palates after being on a diet of mediocre/terrible movies. And this rejuvenation process is kickstarted by our brain synapses getting fired up by the numerous questions his films ask.
Multiple places in A Hero made my mind wander in different directions but not in a way that took me out of the film. Farhadi’s films can do that to you—making you think so many things simultaneously without losing focus on what’s happening on the screen at any given moment.