December 15, 2021 – This complicated story of lies, half-lies, conspiracy theories, jealousy, suspicion, acerbic speculation and social media nonsense, is ultimately just annoying because it reveals more heat than light. Directed by the acclaimed Asghar Farhadi (“The Salesman”) this film is hot on the 2021 awards circuit.
Rahim (played by Amir Jadidi) finds himself stuck in debtor's prison in Iran, owning a huge amount of money to Bahram (played by Mohsen Tanabandeh) a man was once his friend, but is now a bitter enemy. When Rahim's girlfriend, Farkhondeh (played by Sahar Goldust) finds a purse with a lot of money in it, he sees a way out of prison, but the plan ultimately backfires.
Rahim is able to get out of prison for a few days to take care of business with his girlfriend. They go to a shop where they have the gold coins that Rahim's girlfriend found in the purse appraised. The coins are not nearly enough to pay off Rahim's debt, but he hopes the money might be enough to persuade Bahram to release him from prison so he can get a job and make enough money to eventually pay off the debt.
This may sound complicated, but this account is actually simple compared to the complexities of the plot of this movie. The debt in question involves some kind of unspecified shady loan shark operation. The loan shark makes Rahim's debt problem with Bahram more sinister and complicated. Bahram had to sell off his daughter's dowry in order to finance the costs of the loan guarantees he made on Rahim's behalf. This causes him to hate and distrust Rahim.
Despite the found money, Bahram refuses to allow Rahim out of prison, so Rahim decides to give the found money back to its rightful owner. He puts up posters around the area where the purse was found, and a woman calls him, saying the found money is hers. She is able to describe the contents of the purse correctly, in detail. Since Rahim is back in prison by now, his sister Malileh (Maryam Shahdaie) and brother-in-law Hossein (Alireza Jahandideh) are charged with giving back the money, which Rahim left with them.
They return the purse to a mysterious woman who doesn't bother to thank Rahim, or Farkhondeh for returning the money. Malileh and Hossein, who are taking care of Rahim's son, Siavash (Saleh Karimai) somehow manage to give the money to the mysterious woman without discovering her identity. If that seems strange, even stranger things happen in this twisted story.
Rahim becomes a social media star for returning the money to the woman, but since he can't locate the woman to verify his story (the reason he needs to find this woman is because of another complication) he becomes the object of suspicion and social media conspiracy theories. A local charity, which raises money for paying off his debt, and arranges a job for him, gets spooked by the social media posts and everybody starts backing out of their promises to help Rahim.
Rahim does himself no favors by making up stories about finding the money and telling half-truths about returning the money. Rahim thinks that his old enemy Bahram is behind this social media campaign against him, and gets into a fight with Bahram. Somebody with a cell phone captures video of the fight. As quickly as Rahim became a social media hero, he becomes a social media villain.
The accumulation of complications in this story remind me of the old “Media and Society” seminars on PBS hosted by Fred Friendly at Columbia University. The seminars always start out with what seems like a simple moral situation, but complications, added by the moderator at each step of the discussion, create increasing ambiguity until the participants find themselves tied up in ethical knots.
Anyone looking for moral purity, or truth, in social media (or in this movie) will discover only bitterness and anger. Humanity comes out looking pretty bad in this movie, which is loaded with cynics who are quick to believe the worst of people. If you go around looking for the worst in people, that is exactly what you will find. This overlong, slow-paced movie is filled with ugly ambiguities and moral dilemmas.
The fact that this is a foreign language film set in Iran, a country with unfamiliar laws, customs and monetary systems (like, what are “bond checks” for instance?) made it difficult for me to navigate this convoluted story that wallows in human ugliness. It is a tolerable movie, but it utilizes too many arbitrary plot points which increase ambiguity and decrease it's appeal, believability and relevance. It rates a C.
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