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Asghar Farhadi’s new film grapples with the idea of heroes

AP – Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi had been thinking about the concept behind A Hero long before he started making movies.

In fact, the spark came before he even knew that he’d ever make a film. As a theatre student, he saw the Bertolt Brecht play Galileo and it triggered an idea about a person who does a good deed, has a quick ascent and even quicker descent. It’s been rattling in his brain since.

“Why does a society need to make somebody a hero?” Farhadi said through translator Rayan Farzad. “And when they make somebody a hero, it seems that they are kind of asking others to be like that one person, which is unrealistic because people cannot live some other person’s life.”

But Farhadi is reluctant to explain too much.

“I really don’t want to make the audience who haven’t seen the film yet with my explanation go and watch the movie with preconceptions,” he said.

In the film, which is currently available on Amazon Prime Video, a man who is imprisoned for a debt and on a brief leave comes across a lost purse of gold coins that he and his girlfriend think may solve their problems. When he discovers it’s not enough to cover the debt, he helps find its owner. At first, he’s celebrated. But inconsistencies start emerging in his story and little white lies become liabilities.

Mohsen Tanabandeh, Saleh Karimai and Amir Jadidi in a scene from ‘A Hero’. PHOTO: AP

Farhadi wanted the realism to be even more profound than in his other films and considered casting only non-actors at one point. In the end, he found a mix of non-actors, theatre actors with no film experience and a few film actors who he coached to act like the non-actors, like his lead Amir Jadidi.

“We needed to have an actor that at the very first stage, his face and his body and everything and be likable for the audience,” he said of casting Jadidi as Rahim. “The danger that this character has, both because he was very passive and he couldn’t make a decision on his own, it could be not that likable for the audience.”

Being in production during the COVID-19 pandemic made everything more difficult, though it did mean they could spend more time in rehearsals, refining the script and characters.

The shoot started at a time when it looked like numbers were going down, but soon cases were on the rise again. They even had meetings about shutting down on multiple occasions, but his crew persuaded him to keep going.

Still, Farhadi had to enlist help from a visual effects house to digitally remove hundreds of masks in some shots.

The film has been widely acclaimed and has once again placed Farhadi in the Oscar conversation. A Hero is among the 15 films shortlisted for best international feature and will likely go on to be in the final five competing for the Oscar. Nominations will be announced on February 8.

Farhadi has won in the category twice before, for A Separation, in 2012, and The Salesman, in 2018, when he declined to attend the Oscars ceremony in protest of the travel ban that targetted predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran.

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