“Lerd,” or portrait of a man whose sense of self-worth and integrity get trampled. Reza (Reza Akhlaghirad) is a goldfish farmer living near a village in northern Iran with his wife and young son. The land on which they live is very valuable to a local company, and soon that company launches a campaign of intimidation against Reza, with the town council backing it, to try and wrest his land from him. The more they attack him, the more passive Reza becomes and the more Hadis, his beautiful wife (Soudabeh Beizaee) who works as a teacher, becomes numbed by seeing her husband’s inaction. Reza makes things worse for his family and he because he refuses to play the local politics game, the I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine that’s not only accepted, but encourage. In Iran your ability to thrive as businessman is founded on your ability to establish a network, make connections inside the courthouse, the government building, grease a few palms and distribute favors cleverly when necessary, so that when your time of need comes, you can collect favors.
Reza, all self-confidence and pride, is incapable of doing this, his acute sense of integrity getting in the way of his need to protect his land and his family. After all his goldfish are poisoned, his livelihood ransacked, Reza files a complaint. Except that he finds doors that shut on him, the attorney he consults with suggesting that it will cost more to sue the company than to just sell the land to them. As things escalate, will he finally learn to change his ways?
“Lerd” is a fascinating film about Iranian mores and about how that society has organized itself. Rasoulof shows us the cogs and wheels of what it’s like to live and thrive in that country, depending on whether you’re standing at this side or that side of the desk, if you’re wearing a uniform or your work clothes, have some money, no money, or lots of it.
Iran, a country with a rich tradition of filmmaking and cinephilia, has been well-represented in Cannes year after year, thanks in no part to the efforts of Thierry Frémaux, the festival’s general delegate whose team chooses the films that go into the official program. Frémaux has cultivated Iranian cinema at Cannes since taking charge of the programming in 2003. It is therefore thanks to him that Mohammad Rasoulof can keep coming back to Cannes to show his films.
Rasoulof’s previous film, “Manuscripts don’t burn,” was shown in the Un Certain Regard program in 2013. Making that film was a great act of independence on the part of the filmmaker. He had made “Manuscripts” in direct contravention of a twenty year-ban on filmmaking imposed by his counry’s ruling clergy.