The Iranian film “Lerd,” screening in the “Certain Regard” section in Cannes, is a brilliantly told tale of corruption by Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasouloff.
Reza (Reza Akhlaghirad) is a fish farmer who lives a quiet life with his wife and child in the Iranian countryside. But he learns to his own detriment that society around him is corrupt, even as he resists being pulled into the insidious system of payoffs, bribes, lying and constant moral compromise required to survive.
He yearns for the simple rule of law, but finds it nowhere: a company trying to drive him off his land can access the water supply to his fish via the local police. The religious police trying to smoke out his secret supply of watermelon liquor is also pulling the strings in a bogus fine levied against him. It’s all an attempt to bring him to heel, but Reza will not yield, and his life keeps getting worse as debts amass and his child is targeted at school.
Even Reza’s wife Hadis (Soudabeh Beizaee) is powerless to keep a young non-Muslim woman from being driven from the school where she is principal. And her attempts to balance the scales with the daughter of the controlling clan in their community backfires badly.
The pace of “Lerd,” which translates to “a man of integrity,” is slow and deliberate, allowing the audience to follow the unravelling of their lives while understanding the depth of corruption in every aspect of their existence. The toll begins to be evident on their marriage, and it appears as if Reza will explode at his own powerlessness.
At a key turning point, he visits a friend from university who reminds him: “In this country, you are either the oppressor, or the oppressed.” As he decides to fight back by breaching the principles he held dearly, Reza finally stands a chance.
Rasouloff makes a devastating commentary on Iranian society, far removed from official politics. As an artist he has himself paid dearly for his insistence on truth-telling principles that have run afoul of Iranian censors.
According to his IMDB biography, to date Rasouloff has produced “five feature films which none of have been shown in Iran due to the censorship, while his films are enjoyed by a broad audience in cinemas and festivals outside of Iran. Until 2010 Rasoulof mostly used metaphoric forms of storytelling as his means of expression in his films. Since then he has shifted to using more direct forms of expression. In March 2010 Rasoulof was arrested on set at a filming location together with Jafar Panahi while they were directing a film together. In the following trial, he was sentenced to six years in jail. This sentence was later reduced to one year. He was then released on bail and is still waiting for the sentence to be executed”.
In 2011, Rasouloff won the prize for best director in Un Certain Regard for his film ‘Bé Omid é Didar'(Goodbye, 2011) at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2013 he won the FIPRESCI Prize in Cannes for the film “Dast-Neveshteha-Nemisoozand” (Manuscripts Don’t Burn, 2013) from the International Federation of Film Critics in Un Certain Regard.
“Lerd” is yet another searing statement that will resonate far and wide, if not in Iran itself.