It almost felt like a brake. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi had another great film in competition at Cannes, A hero† Who won prizes, this time a Grand Prix, or a second prize. An Oscar nomination will certainly follow, and of course: Farhadi was again allowed to lobby last winter in California, where he likes to be. He has already won two Oscars, with A separation in 2012 and Seller in 2017.
But this time, Asghar Farhadi was discredited halfway through because a student accused him of plagiarism. Last week, it turned out that he had to answer in court in Iran. A stain on the coat of arms of a national celebrity. Because whatever the authorities really think of his subtle moral fables or his success with “Great Satan” America, every Oscar raises the flags in Tehran. For his part, Farhadi eschews politics, which opponents see as opportunism. Now he is being called a thief in the media. A fallen hero?
His film A hero is both a classic and modern tragedy: an analysis of media logic and a social pile-up where noble but contradictory intentions open the way to hell. Rahim (Amir Jadidi) searches for the owner of a lady’s bag with 17 gold coins which he finds while on debt leave from prison – he is incarcerated because he cannot repay a loan after that a partner cheated on him. After this noble gesture, the media put him on a pedestal. After which Rahim discovers that a hero has a limited lifespan.
Rise and fall
Nothing is known about the question of plagiarism when you meet Asghar Farhadi in Cannes on the roof terrace of the Marriott hotel in July. He still gives clues. “The local media is very powerful in Iran and sees it as their duty to boost the morale of their community,” he said. “They are always looking for good examples, heroes. They then go viral on social media. The problem is that these are ordinary people who had a moment of kindness or bravery. As a hero, she suddenly has to be pure and perfect all her life. The media will dig in, and since no one is without sin, their rise will inevitably lead to their downfall.
How does one arrive at such a morally complex scenario, sighs a colleague. Question of observation and listening, Farhadi shines. “An example. I recently spoke to a student at a workshop in the United States. He told me about his brother who had mental problems. He was in a rush one morning for an appointment. His father asked: can you bring me a glass of water? He said: no, I have to run, fetch it myself. When he returned home, his father was dead. Now he is obsessed with this one glass of water. A totally random moment suddenly becomes essential. Do you see the film?
For example, Farhadi once held a workshop in Iran about heroes who fell and became disillusioned and depressed, he says. “They unexpectedly receive a huge gift, the whole world loves them. And then they take it away and everyone looks down on them. It’s a terrible experience.
When someone finds a bag of gold in Hollywood movies, it invariably ends up in a pile of corpses, I notice. Was this famous crime scenario the starting point for his film? Or something else? Farhadi: „A hero is based on countless true Iranian stories of people finding and returning. But if you then find yourself in a media storm like Rahim in A hero, do you have to fight like him? Or is it better to capitulate immediately? Farhadi: “Surrender immediately. I am now in such a media storm and stepping back. Defending yourself is useless. »
We don’t ask questions in Cannes; it is only much later that I realize what Farhadi is referring to. Could he have bought off his scandal, as they deal with copyright issues all the time in Hollywood? Where was he seeking his right?
Read it “A Hero” review
The starting point of A hero was indeed a workshop, as it turns out. In 2014, Farhadi led a workshop at the Karnameh Institute, a local film school. Students were asked to find a story about people who bring back lost items. Student Azadeh Masihzadeh told an unknown and unique story from her hometown of Shiraz about a Mohammad Reza Shokri who found a bag of gold coins while on leave from prison for debt.
Everyone, including Farhadi, was impressed with his story. Masihzadeh made a documentary of it, All losers, all winners, screened at the Sihraz Film Festival in 2018. The following year, Farhadi demanded that she cede the rights to the story to him. She said she felt intimidated and signed off.
When his story began circulating in Iranian media last year, accusations and subpoenas followed. The Farhadi camp asserts that the idea of A hero based on the play by Bertold Brecht Galileo’s life rods. The Shokri affair would be in the public domain because the Iranian media had already spoken about it in 2012. The latter denies Masihzadeh, accused of defamation; an offense punishable by two years in prison and 74 lashes. Farhadi, in turn, was accused of plagiarism, which could cost him the proceeds of the film. The real hero, Mohammed Reza Shokri, also threw himself into the legal fray with a complaint against Farhadi: his portrait in A hero would be rude.
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The students of the workshop and the director of the Karnameh Institute approve of Masihzadeh’s version, to design The Hollywood Reporter on† Last week, a court ruled that Farhadi’s alleged copyright infringement will be brought to justice. Libel cases against Masihzadeh and Shokri were dismissed. Regardless of the end of this process, Farhadi is already damaged. It looks like a powerful movie that doesn’t give a college student “credit” for their movie role out of arrogance or greed. If not, why did he have Masihzadeh sign this statement?
A scenario full of moral nuances: it could be a film by Farhadi. The director can sincerely believe that A hero his idea is this: after all, his workshop in 2014 was about finding and returning things. At Cannes, he stressed that he doesn’t believe in heroes, but he doesn’t believe in villains either. “No one looks in the mirror and sees a bad guy there. That’s the point of A hero and perhaps tragedies in general. Because people don’t look beyond their own right, an agreement is impossible.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of April 13, 2022
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