BY ALISE CHAFFINS
When we think of heroism, what often comes to mind are the big acts where countless lives are saved. In Asghar Farhadi’s latest film, “A Hero,” currently streaming on Amazon Prime, the hero is birthed, ruined, and born again from a number of seemingly small acts.
Through the film, we follow Rahim Soltani (Amir Jadidi), a man imprisoned for failing to pay back a debt after his partner absconded with the money. He is out on a two-day leave and the woman he hopes to marry, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldoust), comes to him with a handbag containing 17 gold coins that could be used to pay off a portion of the debt. His creditor, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh) refuses the partial payment, and in a fit of conscience, Rahim chooses to return the bag.
The prison where Rahim is serving his sentence discovers that he has performed this selfless act, and with a desire to cover up a recent suicide, they contact the press to share the story of the man in prison for debt who found a bag and then returned it, despite that choice resulting in the continuation of his prison sentence. The story goes viral, and a charity gives him a citation for his heroic act and raises money to help him pay off his debt so he can be free.
The problem arises when Rahim is looking for employment and the employers start digging into the story. Rahim told a small lie about who found the bag, saying that it was him rather than Farkhondeh, so as not to make things more difficult for her. To cover this small lie, additional small lies are told, until the whole story is cloaked in scandal and disgrace.
Farhadi takes an unflinching look at truth, particularly in the age of social media. Is it a lie when you talk about doing the right thing while omitting the wrong thing you did first? Is it a lie when you alter facts just enough to protect someone else? Is it a lie to highlight a difficulty to gain sympathy? Farhadi presents a cast of characters who all struggle to tell the truth in a system that can punish them for that truth.
The performances in this are truly lovely. Jadidi’s expressions take us through the full range of emotions as we see him become a local celebrity and then a pariah in just a few days. Even though this is an Iranian film and is set in a language and culture I don’t fully understand, his love for his family and his desire to do right by all of them in the midst of difficult circumstances was easily accessible.
“A Hero” reminds us as viewers that we must exercise care when presenting ourselves to the world. We all want to present the best versions of ourselves, to be the heroes of our own stories. But sometimes the most heroic thing we can do is to simply tell the truth.
Alise Chaffins is a Morgantown writer who loves movies and sharing her opinions. Find more at MacGuffin or Meaning on Substack.