KVIFF 2017 Review: Iran’s ‘A Man of Integrity’ a Stark Corruption Parable
“You’re either an oppressor, or one of the oppressed.”
A rare voice of explicit dissent coming from the Iranian film industry, director Mohammad Rasoulof is currently awaiting a prison sentence stemming from an incident when he was arrested on the set of his 2011 film Goodbye for filming without a permit.
None of his six feature films have been theatrically released in Iran, but (incredibly) he continues to work under the radar and receive acclaim at film festivals around the world for his movies that attack his country’s regime.
His latest, A Man of Integrity, won top honors at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard section before bowing at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Like his previous work, it won’t win him any acclaim from the authorities back home.
In A Man of Integrity, the director explores how a corrupt system oppresses those who are not in power, and eventually corrupts them as well. It’s a brilliantly directed, and surprisingly involving drama that deserves as wide an exposure as it can get.
Pity poor Reza (Reza Akhlaghirad), a humble goldfish farmer who relocated with his wife (Soudabeh Beizaee) and young son from Tehran to a small village to lead a simple life in the country. But he just can’t catch a break.
He’s behind on a mortgage payment to the bank, and a seemingly helpful banker offers to cut him a deal: slip him a little cash on the side, and he can make the penalty fines go away.
It’s a tempting offer, and one that Reza wrestles with and his wife urges him to take. But he is, as the title implies, an honest man: he decides to go the legit route and pay the penalties, even if that means selling his car to be able to do so.
That means Reza is unavailable when his goldfish pond is threatened because the local water company, who wants to buy his land, shuts off his water supply. And when he attempts to resolve the issue, he gets in a fistfight with the local thug who works for them.
Reza has to spend three nights in jail while the thug gets out within hours due to his connections. His wife can’t even push the paperwork to process his bail without slipping someone a little something under the table.
Reza’s commitment to living an honest life is a theme that repeats itself throughout every sequence in the film. And each subsequent incident results from him making the honest choice: had he paid anyone off along the way, things would not get as far as they do.
But things go from bad to worse as the film progresses, with Reza contemplating his best course of action while drinking watermelon wine in a thermal cave spa. By the film’s end, he will realize there is no middle ground, no honest life: he either allows a corrupt system to trample over him, or becomes part of the system himself.
Screening without much fanfare at this year’s Karlovy Vary fest (a screening I caught at Grand Hotel Pupp was surprisingly under-attended), A Man of Integrity presents searing portrait of the devastating impact of corruption on the average man.
But this isn’t just a message movie: every sequence builds on top of the previous in an intricate system of escalating tension that can be likened to the best of Hollywood revenge movies. Working with a prison sentence hanging over his head, writer-director Rasoulof has firmly established himself as one of the best - and most important - filmmakers in Iran.