A MAN OF INTEGRITY (Lerd)
Big World Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Mohammad Rasoulof
Screenwriter: Mohammad Rasoulof
Cast: Reza Akhlaghirad, Soudabeh Beizaee, Nasim Adabi, Zeinab Shabani, Missagh Zareh, Zhila Shahi, Majid Potki
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 5/26/22
Opens: June 17, 2022
In the Middle East, baksheesh (bribery) is as predictable and expected as is Republican right-wing extremism in America. If you want to get along, you pay along. When you look at the trouble one man in Mohammad Rasoulof’s “A Man of Integrity” (original title “Lerd”) must go through because he has too much integrity to grease the wheels and fit into the system, you might leave the two-hour production with your own ethical conscience tarnished. Why bother fighting the system when you could get expelled from the university like Reza (Reza Akhlaghirad), the title character, then losing all the goldfish he farmed when he could no longer become anything of substance in Tehran?
Writer-director Rasoulof could be an exception. He is himself a man of integrity whose debut film won first prize at the Fajr Festival in his home country and took the prestigious top award among eighteen contestants at the Cannes Film Festival with this current work. Here is evidence that you can fight the system and take home prizes, though none of his feature films are allowed to be shown at home.
Ashkiam Ashkani is behind the lenses, filming on location in Tehran, in the city of Rasht, and in rural Gilan Province. Reza and his wife Hadis (Soudabeh Beizaee) are scratching out an existence with their young son on a goldfish farm in a rural area, with college graduate Hadis making do as head teacher in a local school. The goldfish in a pond are dependent on a water supply from the “company,” which makes Reza suspicious when the fish are attacked by a Hitchcockian flight of birds that he chases away, yelling and pounding. What’s worse though is that all the goldfish die because when Reza refuses to sell his farm to the land-hungry company, the would-be landlords, particularly a fellow named Abbas, shut off the water supply.
After an off-screen fight between Reza and Abbas, Reza is sent to jail, but to add insult, Abbas gets a fake medical certificate, suing Reza for a broken arm. Reza cannot pay given that he is already in debt to the bank for a mortgage. Still a man of integrity, he refuses to bribe the judge, who could release him from jail immediately.
From time to time Reza bathes in the waters of a local cave which serves metaphorically as a mikvah, an attempt to purify himself as though he were not already pure as the driven snow, while trying to forget his troubles by imbibing the moonshine from his fermented watermelons. Wife Hadis is more compromising, even expelling a non-Muslim girl from her school at the insistence of the authorities. At the same time, she is not as a rebellious as her husband, complaining regularly that his moral code is getting the family nowhere.
Incidents in Tehran show a city that is at least as corrupt as the sticks. Since filming is on location, we in the audience get to see what it’s like to live in an Iranian rural area, and Americans who may have been forced to give up their homes so that a road can be built or a developer can make a fortune gentrifying the neighborhood will empathize.
In the principal role, Reza Akhlaghirad stands out for his steadfastness, his eyes looking at his surrounding with a penetrating glare, as though he is projecting knives against his adversaries. Here is a drama that will help make the writer-director a name alongside the great filmmakers like Abbas Kiarostami, Asghar Farhadi, Jafar Panahi, and Mohsen Makhmalbaf.
118 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+