Lerd (A Man of Integrity)
If there were a drinking game for a thematically perfect Cannes entry, you wouldn’t be able to see straight after Lerd, the new film from Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof. Stoic, principled protagonist: check. Corrupt, incestuous local government: check. Persistent, unresolved marital tension: check. Relentless, pummelling misery: check, and why have you been sick on your shoes?
This is not to do the film a disservice. It meticulously outlines the increasing exasperation of “decent, hardworking” couple Reza (Reza Akhlaghirad) and Hadis (Soubadeh Beizaee). The local cronies of the rural northern town – ranging from the respectable to the brutish – desire to posses the family’s farm through underhand means. Reza often cuts a figure of absolute desolation: his authority undermined, his wife and child threatened, his livelihood reduced to rubble. A brow has been never more furrowed, eyes never more vacant. Respite barely comes through long, hot showers and dips in his private bath, seemingly hidden within a rock formation. Boiling pots and snatched flatbread imply moments of sexual release among the despair. The family’s plight seems to have come about arbitrarily, although there is hushed talk of “personal grudges” and sinister motivations. He came from Tehran, and his moral stance seems to have been honed in the rebellious confines of his university days. Rasoulof himself was sentenced to six years imprisonment in Iran for dissidence, and the senseless capricious cruelty of the powerful is starkly reflected in his impressive screenplay. There is a lot to compare here with Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan and one of last year’s entries, Cristian Mungiu’s Bacalaureat. Both features were defined by strife, trial and compromise, and both proved successful with the Cannes jury.
The truly excellent performance comes from Beizaee, who intelligently articulates the frustrations of a wife watching her husband stubbornly cling to values that bring only harm. As the headmistress of a girls’ school she tries to offer her own form of intimidation to one pupil. Such acts cause only further distress. We see Reza’s resolve begin to weaken, and his prior business ventures – injecting melons, breeding fish – are superseded by brown envelopes and secret deals. Almost comically, the corruption will continue with or without Reza, integrity or none.
Lerd (A Man of Integrity) does not have a UK release date yet.