Greetings again from the darkness. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” That line from a Sir Walter Raleigh poem hit me early, and stuck with me through this latest superb film from Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi. Having won me over a decade ago with A SEPARATION (2011), and again 5 years ago with THE SALESMAN (2016), Farhadi excels at pushing our buttons on the complexities of human nature.
Rahim (Amir Jadidi) receives a two day leave from debtor’s prison, and has reason for optimism. He has a legitimate plan to make good on his debt and gain his release. A taxi drops him at the tomb of Xerxes where his sister’s brother Hossein (Alireza Jahandideh) is working on the preservation. Rahim, a low-key guy with an easy smile, asks Hossein for help in brokering a deal with Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), the man who paid off the loan shark on Rahim’s behalf, and filed the complaint that sent him to jail.
The divorced Rahim meets up with his secret lover, Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust), to cash out the 17 gold coins she recently found. Unfortunately, the exchange rate is less than expected, and worse than that for Rahim, Bahram refuses to accept the partial payment in conjunction with a promissory note. This leads to the aforementioned ‘tangled web’ and allows filmmaker Farhadi to do what he does best … cause us to question everything.
The web involves Rahim, Bahram, the jailer, and a local charity that gets involved for what is initially termed the actions of ‘a hero’. But that’s just the tip of who gets dragged in, and that includes Rahim’s son, who has a significant speech impediment. So what happens? Well, without giving anything away, we learn there’s a fine line between a lie and the truth, and between a heroic act and manipulation. In fact, Farhadi has us questioning what it means to be a hero. What impact does media attention have? Is it heroic to do the right thing? What if that thing also helps you? What role do the reasons for your actions play?
Rahim faces a steady stream of moral forks in the road. Which path to take at any given time has ramifications on him, his situation, and countless others. As the fibs pile up, soon others are lying to help you or telling stories to hurt you. There is so much grey area here, we can’t be certain whether black and white even exists. Farhadi’s film seems like a simple story about a simple man, but neither the story nor the man are simple. It’s not about the money, but the money reveals character. Reputation and integrity are on the line. We may first root for Rahim and jeer Bahram, but upon reflection, we likely shift our support. This is Iran’s submission to the Academy, and it’s a good one.
In theaters January 7, 2022 and streaming on Amazon Prime January 21, 2021