Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5
Original Title: Ghahreman
France/Iran, 2021. Arte France Cinema, Asghar Farhadi Productions, Centre National du Cinema et de L’Image Animee, Institut Francais, La Région Île-de-France, Memento Distribution, Memento Films International, Memento Films Production. Screenplay by Asghar Farhadi. Cinematography by Ali Ghazi, Arash Ramezani. Produced by Asghar Farhadi, Alexandre Mallet-Guy. Music by Rymin. Production Design by Medhi Moosavi. Costume Design by Negar Nemati. Film Editing by Hayedeh Safiyari.
A man in a complicated situation makes one decision on a whim that ends up bringing on a tidal wave of difficulties in this fascinating drama by the always reliable Asghar Farhadi.
Rahim (Amir Jadidi) has been in prison for some time thanks to a debt that he has been unable to pay his creditor. His ex-wife’s brother-in-law Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh) stood as his guarantor for a loan to get his sign-painting business going and, when that venture failed, Rahim was unable to meet his payments and went to jail instead. Now he has been released for two days on leave and has an opportunity to better his situation: days earlier, his girlfriend Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust) found, by chance, a purse with a stack of gold coins in it and suggests that he sell it and use the money to clear up some of what he owes. They’re hoping with this payment they can perhaps influence Bahram to vouch for him to be released, which would mean he could then get a job and further work off his debt.
When that offer is refused, Rahim decides instead to turn the gold coins over to the authorities, who place an ad that reaches the bag’s rightful owner who is only too grateful to have her possessions returned. The prison that Rahim is living in tells the press the news of his great deed, mainly to generate good publicity for themselves not long after one of their prisoners committed suicide, and encourage Rahim to accept the praise coming his way from a public that is impressed with his generosity. Coverage in the newspaper and on television turns him into a local hero and his luck in life completely changes, his girlfriend’s brother is suddenly amenable to the idea of him marrying her, and a charity connected to the prison holds a fundraiser to help him clear his debt.
Just as fast as his fortune rises, however, it also falls, and his solid future begins to crumble when rumours begin circling on social media that Rahim’s courageous act is a publicity stunt and a hoax. The job he was promised as reward for his good dead wants proof that the woman with the gold coins exists, but she is nowhere to be found, and Rahim’s conflict with Bahram only gets more dramatic when they get into a rough altercation that is made public thanks to its being recorded by security cameras.
Farhadi doesn’t believe in invulnerable situations, and even admirable heroes have their secrets that work against them even when they had no intention to be dishonest; Rahim has told a few white lies and put a favorable spin on the truth in the process of making his good deed public, saying that it was him who found the purse in order to spare his girlfriend any embarrassing publicity and hiding the fact that the real reason he wants to get out of prison is to marry her, not to work off his debt. His potential new employers begin to nose these little truths out and hold them against him, while Bahram is quick to point out that Rahim’s decision to return the bag was not a triumph of his pure conscience but a move of desperation after his chance to sell the coins had been taken away.
There’s a tough brilliance to the manner in which Farhadi layers in the tiers of information as he quietly, confidently places his protagonist in a seemingly innocuous situation that quickly turns devastating, as much because of his own tragic flaws as because of the people around him, who had no problem celebrating him when it suited them but hang him out to dry when things go sour. Rahim means nobody any harm, but he’s rarely wise, allowing himself to be pushed around easily and getting into traps of his own design far too easily, unable to keep his ego in check when allowing his son, who has a speech impediment, to be exploited for public sympathy. His complexities are brought to life with unsettling ease by Farhadi’s expert writing and especially by Jadidi, who gives a masterful lead performance.
Cannes Film Festival Award: Grand Jury Prize (tie)
Golden Globe Award Nomination: Best Foreign Language Film
Toronto International Film Festival: 2021