By Chakavak Kafi
An Iranian Review
Abstract: Asghar Farhadi is a prominent well-known filmmaker. His films are layered and complicated beneath their realistic shell, that’s why analyzing them is helpful. This essay is an attempt to explore a relationship between people’s behavioral patterns in Iranian society and what happens in the movie (A Hero) using a concept from Persian mythology.
Keywords: Cinema of Iran, A Hero, Asghar Farhadi, Power, Farr
The Single Audience Point
Two years ago, I was preparing for the university entrance exam. Books on the history of cinema and its theories were the main sources. In those books the German people’s desire for dictatorship in the 1900s was tracked through expressionist films. This made me think about how films can show the desire and behavior of a society?
What do the films of Iranian cinema imply? Since then, I have tried to take a closer look at Iranian movies. I’ve tried to find a relationship between people’s behavioral patterns and what happens in movies. This essay is an attempt to explore such a relationship.
Watching Farhadi’s A Hero and even his legal dispute over intellectual property prompted me to finally get to work. Before analyzing the film, I will explain a concept of Iranian mythology on which this essay is based.
Let me begin with an example that inspired me to write this essay. There is a popular TV show in Iran called “Khandevane”. The show is based on comedy and is hosted by one of the most popular comedians. In some episodes, comedians are invited to compete in groups. This game consists of items such as pantomime and the like. Based on the points earned in each stage, the winner is determined. At the end of each stage, the host asks the audience in the studio to give one point to their favorite group in addition to the points earned. At least every time I have watched this show, people have given that extra point to the group that was already ahead. Why? It is unlikely that the reason for this is simply due to the larger popularity of those winning comedians.
What comes to my mind is the reluctance of people to take small steps to change the status quo. I remember another similar case when the news of a young girl setting herself on fire in protest of the ban on women entering the stadium was circulating[i]. Her death affected Iranian society. Shortly after, the most significant football derby was held. A campaign was launched to boycott the stadiums in protest of the ban. Ali Daei and some other footballers supported the campaign. What do you think happened? The stadium was full!
I can go on with the examples, but I think so far it’s been clear. So it’s better to go to the next section.
“Farr” in Iranian Mythology
In The short-term society article, Homa Katouzian refers to the concept of “Farr” in Iranian mythology and history[ii]. What is Farr? In Iran there was no law or entrenched tradition to elect a king or determine their legitimacy, although being a son or relative of the ruler was helpful. It was the possession of Farr (God’s grace). Anyone in possession of Farr would have the right to succeed or accede to the throne, and their rule would therefore be regarded as legitimate. Legitimacy is determined by this mysterious quality.
Farr is an abstract invisible concept. How did such a quality become apparent? Unfortunately, there is no way to diagnose. How did they find out that someone owned Farr? When they actually enthroned!
According to the tradition of Farr, anyone could gain power only by claiming to possess Farr. Anyone could be dethroned only if a rebellion overtook them. That is, Farr could be lost as easily as it was obtained.
Legitimacy always belonged to the winner. This leads to the dictatorship of the victorious and a hassle-free hegemony! In such a situation, no opposition is formed unless it is stronger than the current ruler. Katouzian claims that the myth of God’s vice-regency of the ruler was not limited to the ancient, pre-Islamic, times. It continues to this day.
But the myth is not just a political concept limited to the realm of power. It has spread to other areas as well. Credit of any type could be considered as Farr. Advocacy for the powerful has become a pervasive trait. People still do the same, even when it does not directly benefit them. (Those comedians are credited with the higher score they earned in the competition.)
It is painful that people tend to get closer to the owner of Farr and get away from them as soon as they lose it. In such a situation, the most effective way to lose a person’s acceptance is to destroy their Farr. On the other hand, one way to gain or maintain Farr is force. This is not good news either.
Farr and A Hero
With this long introduction, we now want to study the process of gaining and losing Farr in Asghar Farhadi’s latest work. Rahim, a financial prisoner, finds gold coins in a bag and returns them to their owner despite his need for them.
Prison officials spread the news of his deed in the media so that he would soon become a popular hero. A suicide committed some time ago has undermined the credibility (Farr) of officials. By trying to spread the story of Rahim, they are trying to counter the effect of what happened in the past with fresh propaganda. That is recovery of Farr.
At the beginning of the film, Rahim’s charity makes him the owner of Farr. Thanks to his commendation plaque he can make the impossible possible. A prisoner has gained such Farr that prison staff stand next to him and take pictures with him for credit. (Taking photos with an owner of Farr is an attempt to show a close relationship with them and gain credibility in this way.)
Farr brings Rahim a furlough. A charity volunteers to raise public donations to pay off his debt and obtain his plaintiff’s consent. This is where Farr comes in even more powerful than money! Due to his virtuous deeds and his fame, he has attained a high status. People, influenced by this spiritual power, give him an even higher status. Bahram, his plaintiff and antagonist, attempts to stop this ripple, but he is unable to. Why? Because: Rahim’s Farr has already been widely accepted.
Due to lies and misunderstandings, Rahim gradually loses his Farr with everyone. Farr is by no means a static concept. On the contrary, it is fluid and is disposed of as easily as it was obtained. He loses his Farr in the prison community because he fails to mention the suicide in his interview. On the other hand, Bahram, who is aware of the importance of this public Farr, broadcasts the video of Rahim’s fight with him in cyberspace. He was pessimistic about this Farr from the beginning, and now he is actively taking steps to eliminate it. This shows what an effective tool the media is in endowing or depriving Farr of.
What made Bahram so angry? Was he not a possessor of Farr one day? Doesn’t he blame Rahim for the loss of his past Farr?
The next person to suspect Rahim’s Farr is the Human Resources Officer. Suspicious of the truth, as a result of the slandering, he asks Rahim to find the woman who owns the bag. Rahim is forced to lie. The revelation of his lies and the subsequent quarrel he has with Bahram causes people to lose interest in him. Rahim is rejected by the charity, and even prison officials refuse to assist.
Rahim is left with his small circle of loved ones. He only wants to preserve his tarnished reputation. His girlfriend tries to revive his Farr by attributing another heroic act to Rahim. As the charity has decided to donate the money raised to prevent the execution of another prisoner, Rahim’s girlfriend asks them to announce that this is Rahim’s decision to save a life.
The tragedy of Rahim’s life resides in the fact that he is forced to lie. Initially, he is forced to lie by the prison officials, then by the media, and finally by the officer’s obsession with finding the woman who owns the bag. This eventually leads to his departure from Farr.
People may disagree on Farr. The only people who always stay on Rahim’s side are those who love him. People we love are always owners of Farr in our eyes. On the other hand, his creditor, who has an old grudge against him, never believes his Farr.
Asghar Farhadi As a Hero
Asghar Farhadi is the most Farr owner Iranian artist with two Oscars. There have been recent reports of his plagiarism from a documentary [iii]. Short-term Iranian society is polarized over giving or taking away Farr from its former hero.
Some still consider him a master of Farr because of his artistic background and faithfully try to justify his plagiarism. Others think he has lost his Farr because of the charge. Legal proof is provided Farr to the plaintiff and Farhadi’s background is given Farr to him. We should wait and see whether Iranian society stays with Farhadi or takes the Farr back, regardless of what the court rules.
Farhadi had been in danger of losing Farr once before. His voice would have been powerful enough to cry out for the suffering of the Iranian people, but he gave no voice! People were upset by his indifference. Remember how Rahim fell from grace in prison?
The Last Word
What we have to believe is that we, the people, are the true owners of Farr. And we dedicate it to the stronger side. Without thinking about whether they deserve it or not. Let’s not forget that Farr is a fluid concept. Let’s not forget that it can be taken back. The single audience point should never be underestimated.
[ii] Katouzian, H., (2004), The Short-Term Society: A Study in the Problems of Long-Term Political and Economic Development in Iran’, Middle Eastern Studies, 40, 1, January 2004.