A Man of Integrity (2017)

A bold commentary on the challenges an individual faces when trying to resist a system that thrives on dishonesty, systemic corruption and moral decay.

11/19/20235 min read

Reza Akhlaghirad and Soudabeh Beizaee in 'A Man of Integrity'
Reza Akhlaghirad and Soudabeh Beizaee in 'A Man of Integrity'

Persian, 118 minutes

Director: Mohammad Rasoulof

Cast: Reza Akhlaghirad, Soudabeh Beizaee, Missagh Zareh, Nasim Adabi

Awards: Winner, Un Certain Regard, Cannes Film Festival, 2017; Winner Silver Hugo (Best Screenplay) and Nominee, Golden Hugo (Best Film), Chicago International Film Festival, 2017; Winner, Golden Orange, (Best Director, Best Actor), Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, 2017; Nominee, Golden Peacock, India International Film Festival, 2017

Certain films should be seen in totality, meaning in certain perspective. A film is not always made in normal way- a proper thriving filming infrastructure, ample resources, full freedom for expression and enough avenues to sell or exhibit. ‘A Man of Integrity’ is one such film. It is made by Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof who actually is no stranger to the world of ‘films against government’ in Iran. This is his sixth full length feature film. His earlier films too are vocal and glaring about issues with government. But more about this later. Let us first concentrate on the film at hand.

Reza (Reza Akhlaghirad) lives on a farm outside city farming goldfish with his wife Hadis (Soudabeh Beizaee) and his son. Despite being young and university educated he has left Teheran and shunned city-life. His wife is ‘Head Teacher’ at a school. Right at outset we see his house raided by people ‘from mosque’ searching for spiked watermelons. Though they don’t find it, the oppressive tone for the film is set with this sequence. Soon he is at the bank negotiating his installments as business of selling goldfish is not doing well it seems. But the man from bank asks for a bribe saying it has to be paid to people higher up. Next day Reza comes and declines to pay saying he ‘doesn’t pay bribes’ and will pay penalties.

One day, he finds water to the canal feeding to his goldfish farm is shut off. He forcibly opens the gate which is seen by the watchman, Abbas. Next, we see Hadis running to police station. Reza is arrested as he gets into fight with the watchman. He is released on bail four days later but after a lot of running around and greasing hands by Hadis and her brother (Missagh Zareh). It seems, a company has set their eyes on his land and everyone, from police to village council are hand in glove it seems. They poison the water in his farm resulting in dead fish. Reza complains but a policeman advises him to sell off his farm and go somewhere else as those people are well connected. Reza suspects Abbas, the watchman, behind the act of poisoning. He has filed a complaint against Reza for breaking his arm during their fight. Hadis advises Reza to toe the line, find friends and bribe officials otherwise they will crush them. She tries other method- Abbas’s daughter is in her school. She tries to threaten her to convince her father for withdrawing complaint. But the plan backfires as she stops coming to school and Abbas’s people, tribal clan of Jafarbadis, warn Reza to stay away from letting his wife come in between the fight.

Cornered from all sides, Reza attempts to sell his farm but company now doesn’t oblige as they think it will harm their image. While returning, he stops at a tea-bar for a cup of tea. A guy observing Reza, approaches him after he comes out and advises him to declare himself bankrupt so that he wouldn’t need to pay Abbas and they need a guy with integrity in council as mayor is corrupt. So, he says, if Reza says yes, he can handle everything. The guy tells Reza to not let them take his land away and he must retaliate with whatever means he can.

Meanwhile at school, Reza’s son gets in fight with police chief’s son who is admitted to hospital with nine stitches. Reza goes to apologize to him with his son but the chief asks them to come to station. He then goes to Abbas to apologize but is rebuked. He visits a lawyer to file a case against Abbas and get compensation but on seeing papers advises against it citing no credible proof. Reza returns home and has a determined look on his face. He later says to his wife, “You wanted me to fight. I am fighting”. He also asks his wife to take their son and go to stay with her brother for next few days. Writing further would be like give up spoilers because this is where sequence which develops into climax starts.

The performances in the film are outstanding, with Reza Akhlaghirad delivering a nuanced portrayal of a man torn between his principles and the harsh realities of the world around him. What sets "A Man of Integrity" apart is its unflinching exploration of the socio-political issues facing contemporary Iran. The film doesn't shy away from depicting the harsh consequences of defiance, making it a poignant and socially relevant piece of cinema.

About the director, Mohammad Rasoulof

Born in the month of November, 1972, in Shiraz, Iran, Rasoulof has become a prominent figure in Iranian cinema, despite facing challenges and censorship from the Iranian authorities due to the politically sensitive nature of his films. But despite these difficulties, he remains dedicated to using cinema as a powerful medium for expressing dissent and shedding light on important societal issues.

He graduated in Sociology from Shiraz University but moved on to films and studied Film Editing at Soore University, one of the top art Universities of Teheran. He made his first full length feature film, ‘The Twilight’ in 2002 which was awarded the Best First Film at Fajr International Film Festival, Teheran, 2002. His second feature film ‘Iron Island’ came in 2005. His fourth film, ’Goodbye’ was premiered under ‘Un Certain Regard’ section in Cannes Film Festival, 2011 and won ‘Best Director’ prize.

Present film, ‘A Man of Integrity’, his sixth film, won the top prize in ‘Un Certain Regard’ section in Cannes Film Festival, 2017. Because of scathing critique mounted on Iranian authorities in this film, Rasoulof was sentenced for one year imprisonment and two year ban on leaving country by Islamic court of Iran. He was also banned from participating in any social and political activity. He appealed for release in August 2019 and for the hearing many prominent Iranian film personalities like Jafar Panahi, Asghar Farhadi and Rakhshan Banietemad accompanied him. His latest film, ’There is no Evil’ made in 2020 won Golden Bear (Best Film) at the Berlin International Film Festival, 2020. He was sentenced to one year in prison and banned from making any film for two years in March 2020, just after Berlin international Film Festival that year. He was released in February 2023 on health grounds.

Rasoulof's films often tackle complex socio-political issues, addressing themes such as corruption, morality, and the struggles of individuals against oppressive systems. His work reflects a commitment to exploring the human condition within the context of Iran's social and political landscape.