Mohammad Rasoulof laments institutional corruption and injustice in Iranian society in A Man of Integrity (Lerd).
Look Back in Angerby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Dissident director Mohammad Rasoulof, an associate of celebrated Iranian director Jafar Panahi, was sentenced to jail and a 20-year ban on filmmaking for making films without a permit. Past films of his – Manuscripts Don’t Burn and Iron Island
Bizarrely, his new film Lerd had its premiere at Cannes the day that Iran held presidential elections. It’s a strong condemnation of the pervasive corruption he believes to be inherent in the Iranian theocracy.
Lerd is the story of Reza (Reza Akhlaghirad), his wife, Hadis (Soudabeh Beizaee) and their son. Reza has brought his family out of Tehran, where dahis friends have been jailed for their political opinions, to set up a goldfish farm on an isolated piece of land. Hadis is headmistress of the local high school. But a private company nearby, with links to the local authorities, is trying to drive Reza out of business and buy his land at a knock-down price by damming the river and cutting off his access to the fresh water he needs for his fish.
There are ways around this by bribery and moral compromise, which Hadis urges Reza to take, but despite all the warnings about harm he’s doing to himself and his family, he refuses to compromise his own integrity. This brings him into violent confrontation with his unscrupulous neighbour and enforcer Abbas, the local Mr Big. Making a pragmatic decision, Hadis takes matters into her own hands to pressurise Abbas, using what little power she has, but it only serves to make things worse. Their son gets into trouble with the local police.
Parellel with this is the fate of a neighbouring Christian family. When their religion is revealed, Hadis herself becomes the uncompromising authorities when she unhesitatingly expels the girl from her school, thus consigning her and her family to an uncertain future.
The dominance of the religious police is everywhere and they can arrive and search premises unexpectedly. When he needs to think, Reza retreats to a natural hidden mineral pool, where he drinks the illicit liquor he brews. Everything is going wrong for him and his family and it seems that they will be financially ruined – until in desperation he decides on a plan that goes against all his principles and, having betrayed them, ironically he is lauded for it.
Lerd is a slow-moving, unrelentingly pessimistic story set in muddy, flat unattractive countryside and a provincial town that seems like the end of the world. It’s an uncompromisingly – perhaps too unremittingly bitter –wholesale condemnation of an insidiously corrupt bureaucracy, legal system and society.
Lerd won the Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival 2017. In competition were 18 films from 22 countries, six of them first films.
Lerd – A Man of Integrity is now showing in the Official Selection at the 70th Cannes Film Festival.