It shouldn’t be a shocker that an international feature from Asghar Farhadi has entered the awards conversation with the vivacious and flavorful “A Hero.” How the Iranian filmmaker chooses to frame his stories has always been compelling, and it’s a quality that has been overlooked by the Academy in his tenure. Perhaps, this could be his ticket to an overdue directing nomination.
The film tells the story of Rahim (Amir Jadidi), who is in prison for a debt that he was unable to pay. During a two-day leave, an act of kindness provides Rahim with an opportunity to convince his creditor to withdraw the complaint so he can go free, but not everything goes as planned.
Farhadi, who serves as the writer, director and producer of “A Hero,” is one of the most assured filmmakers working in our industry. He knows exactly what type of films he wants to create, and the Academy has responded with two Oscars for his past international submissions — “A Separation” (2011) and “The Salesman” (2016) — the former of which was also nominated for original screenplay. If Iran chooses to submit the Persian-language entry for the Academy Awards, he could be in line to win the third statue for his native land, which would put him one short of the record held by Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini, who directed four winning movies during his lifetime. With the backing of a distributor like Amazon Studios putting muscle behind the film, they could tap into the pocket of the Academy that loves a story that explores themes like honor and redemption.
However, a technical yet sad fact is that Farhadi is not an Oscar winner. Though two of his past films — “A Separation” (2011) and “The Salesman” (2016) — have both won for best international feature, per the Academy Awards rules, the award is not presented to a specific individual, despite it typically accepted by the filmmaker on stage. Instead, it’s considered an award for the submitting country. If it weren’t for his surprising and deserving nomination for original screenplay in 2011, he still would be without a nomination. This explains why a filmmaker like Alfonso Cuarón only has four nominations for “Roma” (2019) and not five, which would have been one short of the Walt Disney record of six. This rule also differs from the BAFTA Awards, which gives the distinction to the producer and director. The Academy Board of Governors should consider amending the rules.
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So, what are the awards chances for “A Hero” outside of the international feature category, if any?
There have been 34 occurrences of filmmakers of non-English language films getting a best director nomination, beginning with Fellini for “La Dolce Vita” (1961). Since the expansion of the best picture field in 2009, there have been six — Michael Haneke (“Amour”), Cuarón (“Roma”), Pawel Pawlikowski (“Cold War”), Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”), Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) and Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”). Pawlikowski and Vinterberg made their respective lineups both without their films being nominated for best picture, and another foreign language director alongside them. As Farhadi’s career continues to challenge itself in terms of scope and narrative themes, “A Hero” makes a compelling case for his first nom in director, even if the film may have a more laborious time making the wider field lineup. Better known as the “lone director,” we’ve seen them multiple times in Oscar history with Pedro Almodóvar (“Talk to Her”), Fernando Meirelles (“City of God”) and Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”). Farhadi could join those ranks if it picks up enough traction.
Jadidi, who plays the sentimental and intriguing Rahim, delivers, hands down, one of the best performances this year yet. Totally committed, Jadidi exercises a dynamic range of emotion and knows his sensibilities as an actor, and it’s something the acting branch would be wise to consider for attention. However, as history has constantly shown, the one-inch subtitles tend to keep a distance between members and their ballots. Even when “Parasite” beat the 92-year odds to win best picture, the first foreign-language film to do so, it did it without any acting nominations. In AMPAS history, only six performances have won for being mostly or solely spoken in another language, and sadly, none of them were Farsi. I’ll always want to challenge the Academy to look beyond the confines of what’s easy and expose themselves to different works, or ones they don’t typically seek out. They might surprise themselves, and Jadidi is an invigorating turn that will move viewers if given a chance.
The original screenplay could prove to be more difficult to navigate at 50,000 feet and a guaranteed 10 best picture nominees ahead. In the two years of the guaranteed 10, “The Messenger” (2009) and “Another Year” (2010) found their way into the field, and sliding scale years offered enough wiggle room, including Farhadi himself. I would love to see the cinematographers, Ali Ghazi and Arash Ramezani, plead their case for voters, especially with a final shot that is sensationally framed, bringing the entire tale to a resounding conclusion.
“A Hero” making its bow in Cannes is a good start, and we’ll see how the rest of the fall festivals shakeup, especially if it makes stops at prestigious awards jump-offs like Venice and Telluride. Then, we’ll see where it all lands with Oscar.