Monday, June 20, 2022

Rasoulof’s A Man of Integrity

Technically, charging interest is forbidden under Islam, but Islamic nations have developed workarounds, because no country can function without a working banking system. Those workarounds are definitely working against the upright Reza. However, the struggling fish farmer really resents the many bribes and kickbacks he refuses to pay. As a result, his family is on the brink of financial ruin in Mohammad Rasoulof’s A Man of Integrity, which opens Friday in LA (and is now showing in NY).

Reza never graduated from college, because he took a futile stand on principles. Instead, he moved to the provinces, but he found society just as corrupt there. A large company is trying to force him off his land. They act with impunity, even poisoning the water feeding into his fish pond, because they have bribed the local police and regulators. Reza might have bought more time to pay off his foreclosing mortgage, but, of course, he refused to grease the necessary palms.

His wife finds him almost perversely rigid, but he is not a moralizing Islamist. In fact, he secretly ferments his own home brew, which he successfully hides from the morals police (instead they confiscate his riffle, which is telling, isn’t it?). The truth is, Reza is right on every point, so when he finally gets pushed to far, things will really get ugly.

It is easy to see why this film launched Rasoulof’s prolonged legal difficulties with the Iranian authorities (it first screened internationally in 2017, but it is only now getting an American theatrical release), which are still not resolved. He has yet to serve the prison sentence that was imposed just before Covid hit. Yet, from the regime’s perspective, Reza’s battles with corruption might be embarrassing, but the real arsenic in
Integrity are probably the storylines involving his wife Hadis’s work as the headmistress of a girl’s school.

There we see her comply with the mandated expulsion of a student, because her family was exposed as non-Muslims. We also learn just how disposable girls are in Iranian society, when she tries to use the daughter of Reza’s main nemesis (without her husband’s prior knowledge or approval) to put pressure on her father.

is a powerful film, but it can be difficult to watch, because Reza’s endures almost as much woe as Job himself. Yet, it steadily builds to a bitterly ironic payoff. It might seem like the way Rasoulof piles on the humiliations approaches overkill, but each one is intertwined with the others and they all play a role in his caustic climax.

Reza Akhlaghirad is terrific as his namesake. To say he is intense does not do him justice. There are times when he looks like he might have an aneurism on-screen. Soudabeh Beizaee’s Hadis is less sympathetic, but she is deeply complicated and keenly human, especially when she realizes the consequences of some of her actions.

It is strange it took so long for
Integrity to get an American release, because it is a significant work of cinema that had deeply troubling repercussions for Rasoulof in his homeland. This is a film that could support thesis-length analyses, but the human drama it presents is accessible to any viewer with an adult attention span. Rasoulof made an excellent film that eloquently indicts the injustices of the Revolutionary government. Unfortunately, that led to more injustices. Very highly recommended, A Man of Integrity is now playing in New York at the IFC Center and it opens Friday (6/24) at the Laemmle Royal.