A Man of Integrity (Lerd)

A Man of Integrity

Director Mohammad Rasoulof’s examination of Iranian bureaucracy and the burden it places on those who wish to bypass it continues with his new feature, A Man of Integrity. Much like his brilliant pic Goodbye, this film features masterful storytelling that is perfectly paced, observant and most of all meaningfully critical of the daily challenges faced by honest individuals.

The man of the title is a Reza, who owns a fish farm and makes ends meet with his schoolteacher wife and their young son. An early series of mishaps, involving a bank loan, penalty payouts and a physical confrontation with someone encroaching his farm results in a cycle of misfortune in which he becomes trapped. Shrewdly designed as a social critique, the plot of the film presents many obstacles to straight-faced Reza’s desire to do what is right. He refuses, for instance, to pay bribes or ask for help from the powerful or influential, a fact not lost on his helpless wife, but this honorable approach only yields more trouble for him while making viewers feels understandably indignant.

The film, however, isn’t a cinematic representation of human misery but a complex morality tale. For anyone who has ever had to live or spend considerable time in countries or societies where authoritarianism and injustice reign supreme, Reza’s plight will seem very relatable, where the wrong way is often right, honesty is viewed as a weakness and, to borrow a line from the film itself, “everyone is either an oppressor or oppressed”. None of the people that Reza confronts or meets for help has a meaningful solution to his problem but everyone, either by habit or cultural expectation, offers an alternative or a workaround that is just outside the fringes of the legal framework.

Rasoulof’s cinematic formalism meshes well with this setting, lending the film a sense of thick Iranian neorealism that never seems to shy away from the harsh realities of life. While the film represents both ambition and growth on the part of the director (the script is more refined and much more complex than Goodbye) it is also sometimes repetitious in its unrelenting display of character adversity and constant tribulation. We understand fairly early on that Reza is upright and moral while everyone else sees his ways as naïve, but the films desire to unyieldingly carry on showing this start to strain. Thankfully, the script eventually surpasses this mild limitation, bringing the story to a satisfying end that is as bitter as it is understandable.

Rating: ★★★★☆

About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and wearethemovies.com