Asghar Farhadi is one of our greatest living directors. I've written about some of his films before:
About Elly (2009). "Farhadi has a way of getting inside his characters, exposing them, helping us understand them even when they are acting poorly."
A Separation (2011). "There are no bad characters in the movie, and everyone seems to be trying to live a good and moral life. But they don’t all agree on what is good and moral, and the realities of their lives make compromise almost inevitable."
The Past (2013). "Farhadi takes his time … we meet the main characters, get a feeling for their interactions, see that things are irritable at best. And then we start learning more about the events we thought had been covered in the time the characters were introduced. Watching it unravel is fascinating."
A common theme is the attention Farhadi pays to his characters. They are at the center of his movies, they are complex, they are always both likable and not, although given Farhadi's empathy with those characters, we end up liking them more than we don't.
The title of this movie is ironic ... the central character, Rahim, follows an arc from prisoner to acclaimed hero and back again, and even his acclaimed status is based on lies. Little lies, to be sure. Rahim is in debtor's prison, and while it's clear how he ended up there, it feels a bit unfair nonetheless. Amir Jadidi, who plays Rahim, has a winning smile, and from the start we are on his side. His heroic act, returning a bag filled with gold coins even though he could use them to help pay off his debts, is the "right" thing to do. But then events overtake the life of this ordinary man. There are cultural reasons why he can't be completely honest about the bag (his girlfriend is the one who finds it, but he claims the act as his own because their affair is a secret one). And once you twist the truth just a little bit, it's increasingly difficult to get your story straight. We understand the need for the little lie, and we don't think less of Rahim because of it. But then others get involved. The story gets out. The prison where he stays wants to turn him into a public example of the possibilities of rehabilitation. He is used by charities to raise money. But one person is obsessed with the little lie, which he suspects hides something bigger. It's Bahram, the man who put him in prison, the man to whom Rahim owes money. Bahram thinks his pride is being insulted; he doesn't believe he did anything wrong in taking Rahim to task for the borrowed money, and it feels like he's jealous that this lowlife is receiving hosannas from the public. As usual for Farhadi, no one is all good and right or all bad and wrong, and events conspire to turn Rahim's life to shit.
I consider A Separation to be one of the best films of our time, but Farhadi has never given us anything less than excellence. Add A Hero to that list.