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Sunday, 11 April 2021

Cannes Review: Iranian film ‘Lerd’ examines a moral man in a world of oppression, corruption

In his new feature film, Iranian director Mohammed Rasoulf follows a moral protagonist as he tries to navigate through an immoral society

Adham Youssef from Cannes, Tuesday 23 May 2017
(Photo: still from Lerd)
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Views: 4906

At first, Lerd (A Man of integrity) would strike you as a typical film (one man of principles, others who have no shame), but as the story develops, this courageous critique of modern Iranian society proves to be of a much higher calibre.

Directed by Iranian filmmaker Mohammed Rasoulf, Lerd, which competes in the Un Certain Regard selection this year, seeks to find a way for Reza (Reza Akhlaghirad), a fish farmer in provincial Iran, gets caught up in the greed of a corporation.

The company, which is symbolic of a larger issue, wants to buy his farm and land.

The company pays off the local chiefs, the police, the judges, the prison guards, and the mayor, with the power structure centred on the benefits and interests of the company.

The company represents more than a capitalist corporation that wants to expand its territories; it is a representation of the state.

Eventually, the corruption of the state targets anyone who will not bow to its interests.

(Photo: still from Lerd)

Top to bottom, the corrupt umbrella fuels immoral behaviour on an individual level.

Hospital reports are faked to blame the victims, non-Muslims are barred from being buried in Muslim cemeteries, and a man kills his daughter but blames others for her murder.

Lerd premiered in Cannes hours before Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected in this year’s presidential elections. 

Director Mohammed Rasoulf told Ahram Online about his experience with the Iranian authorities in getting authorisation to shoot his films, saying that if Rouhani had not won the elections, Rasoulf "would have been punching stone. But now that he won, I will be punching wood."

Rasoulf and fellow filmmaker Jafar Panahi received in 2010 a 20-year ban on shooting films and speaking to the media over charges of creating anti-regime propaganda.

However, Rasoulf appealed the sentence and received a suspended one-year prison sentence.

Rasoulf's new drama is radical in that he went beyond criticising corruption by individuals, but went further to argue that individual corruption is exacerbated by the corruption of the state and its affiliates. 

This is not to say that Rasoulf's concept of corruption is limited to provincial areas, where arguably “traditional” thinking prevails.

Even in the capital Tehran, the oppression and corruption does not necessarily soften.

When the protagonist seeks advice from a lawyer in a suit against the company, he is advised to drop any charges and settle with his oppressors.

(Photo: still from Lerd)

Reza’s wife Hadis (Soudabeh Beizaee) is by far the most complex character in the film.

Even though Hadis, a bit of a pragmatist, supports her loving husband in his struggle, she still advises him to go with the flow; to bribe the judges or the bankers or the prison guards.

Her character is in the middle of two extremes, her idealist husband and his adversaries.

Beizaee delivers a convincing performance as a supportive spouse.

The director gives the characters a respite from the tension after a long day in a police station or a weekend chasing lawyers, in scenes of hidden intimacy between the wife and the husband.

Intimate scenes are not directly shown, but are rather implied, giving way to a new day and a new scene.

The theme of corruption is reflected in the grey-toned cinematography.

Director of photography Ashkan Ashkani films cold scenes that capture the roughness of the village, the grey and dismaying facades of police stations, public schools, Islamic banks, and the buildings housing state bureaucracies, reflecting the human interactions that take place inside.

Rasoulf dedicated several scenes of the main character taking baths and cleaning away all the tension, standing with his back to the camera in front of a police station or in front of the warehouse owned by his corrupt neighbour.

Reza, quiet and agitated, is imprisoned in the compositions, unlike his enemies, who are more comfortable.

Rasoulf and the film's protagonist have some things in common.

Both wanted at first to follow the law. While Rasoulf waited for authorisation to film, Reza is convinced that he has to follow the rules and file complaints.

Rasoulf will return to Iran, but he still fears being prosecuted and possibly jailed.  

From left to right: Reza Akhlaghirad, Nasim Adabi, Mohammad Rasoulof and Soudabeh Beizaee (Photo: C. Bouillon / courtesy Cannes Film Festival)

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