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No Good Deed

Amirhossein Shojaei

A Hero (2021)

Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero” is yet another engrossing thriller in the vein of his “A Separation,” in which a few seemingly innocuous white lies spiral out of control and lead to dire consequences.

On a two-day leave from prison, Rahim Soltani (Amir Jadidi) resolves to secure his freedom by offering to settle a 150,000-toman debt with his former father-in-law, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), and persuading him to drop the charges that led to the incarceration. Rahim coyly assures his sister, Malileh (Maryam Shahdaie), that he has come into his newfound lucre legitimately; still, his brother-in-law, Hossein (Ali Reza Jahandideh), whom Rahim needs as a go-between because Bahram won’t talk to him, is reluctant to get involved as Rahim doesn’t have the funds in hand.

Apparently Rahim’s girlfriend, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldoust), has recovered, at a bus stop, a handbag containing 17 gold coins, which they hope will satisfy Bahram. At a pawn shop, they learn to their dismay that the value of gold has decreased. Wary of Rahim’s shenanigans, Bahram refuses the arrangement. Only then does Rahim decide that the appropriate thing to do is return the purse to its rightful owner – though it’s unclear whether his moment of clarity is motivated by conscience or calculation. When prison official Salehi (Farrokh Nourbakht) catches wind of this, he immediately orchestrates a full-on media blitz to laud Rahim’s decency.

None of this is sitting well with Bahram, who thinks Rahim is the scum of the earth; it makes Bahram queasy when a charity bestows an award on Rahim and invites his speech-impaired son, Siavash (Saleh Karimai), on stage, setting off a deluge of donations. Things go sour from here, and we’re unsure if Bahram isn’t playing saboteur. Rahim receives a referral for job placement to help pay off the balance, but hiring manager Nadeali (Ehsan Goodarzi) insists on meeting the owner of the lost clutch. Those who’ve seen “A Separation” naturally may wonder if the mysterious woman who comes forward to claim it is indeed the right person. We never do find out, but she vanishes without a trace and leaves Rahim in a terrible bind.

“A Hero” doesn’t seem nearly as morally ambiguous as “A Separation.” Despite hinting at the level of shrewdness that Rahim is capable of, it also depicts him as unsuspecting and naïve. Similarly, it paints Bahram and Nadeali as one-dimensional villains without sufficiently explaining their beef with Rahim.

If “A Separation” has an unexpectedly conservative tenor, “A Hero” also has its own hidden agenda criticizing celebrity and cancel culture. Though Rahim initially takes credit for discovering the shoulder bag, he fesses up before the media storm to Salehi, who encourages him to not change his tune because it makes a better story. Mme Radmehr (Fereshteh Sadrorafaii), the charity’s administrator, exploits the situation for a windfall. But when Rahim’s narrative begins to unravel, those who’ve thrust him into the spotlight are quick to turn their backs on him.

Mr. Farhadi gets a bit manipulative toward the end by dangling the improbable prospect of the bag’s owner coming clean and clearing Rahim’s name. The filmmaker then has Rahim perform the ultimate act of heroism and self-sacrifice while totally glossing over how he also could have been a hero by saving himself and thus not depriving Siavash of a father.


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