REVIEW: ‘A Man of Integrity’ is a Poignant Commentary on a Bleak Reality

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A Man of Integrity - But Why Tho

A Man of Integrity is not Iranian writer and director Mohammad Rasoulof’s most recent film, but it is the most recent to enjoy screenings in the United States. Like all of Rasoulof’s films, it offers dire commentary on the political and social conditions of Iran that can just as well feel universal to the corrupt and oppressive nature of authoritarianism the world over. Here, Reza (Reza Akhlaghirad) and his family have recently relocated to a remote part of Northern Iran from Tehran to start new lives. He farms goldfish and his wife Hadis (Soudabeh Beizaee) is the head teacher at a local girls’ high school. The Company, essentially a band of local thugs who control most of the town, its authorities, and some other extra-legal activities, wants to buy Reza’s land, but he refuses. Of course, this is met with harsh retaliation. But, as the ritual man of integrity, Reza refuses to stoop to their level to fight back.

A Man of Integrity is a bleak film. It’s dark and lugubrious. It doesn’t have any of the surrealism of some of Rasoulof’s other films and is rather straight and to the point. This lends itself to two things at once: a deep relatability and a sometimes sluggish pace. The name of the movie says it all. Reza is a man who just refuses to stoop to the level of everyone around him. Reza’s reasons unfold throughout the movie but it’s a slow and marginally backfilling and not the most interesting part of the movie by any means.

The movie opens with Reza’s hypocrisy. He seems to both drink and sell alcohol which he hides in watermelons underneath his garage. In essence, he’s a man who detests the oppressive nature of his society and skirts it in a blatant criminal enterprise, yet, he draws the line at bribery and other means of playing dirty to pay his debts, stay out of jail, and keep his farm? There is a Jewish adage I couldn’t stop thinking about, “In a place where there are no people, strive to be a person.” We often interpret it to mean that in a place full of bad people, be a good person. But in a place where everyone is bought by the Company and they wreak havoc on his livelihood, is it enough for Reza to strive to be virtuous to feel good about himself? Or does he have to play by the Company’s rules ultimately if he wants to retain his humanity?

It’s all interesting and intense, but as with Rasoulof’s usual shortcoming for me, the movie is just too long. I don’t need to be gobbed over with this misery for it to sink it. It’s evident from the first minutes thanks to the dreary cinematography and the excellent acting from both Akhlaghirad and Baizaee. I found myself losing interest towards the middle as the hopelessness just continued on and on and the only possible resolution felt too obvious for me to keep having to wait to see. Once the pace picks up towards the end, my attention returned too, but it does weigh the whole movie down for me ultimately.

The acting is really strong though. Reza is just so miserable and the way Akhlaghirad plays it is made all the more enthralling as he finds bursts of inspiration. His emotions read all over his face and his body language. Baizaee is a standout as well. Haids is not washed away by Reza’s misery whatsoever and stands on her own as a powerful character on-screen. Her counterbalance to Reza’s sometimes meager and always depressed nature makes her even more interesting to watch than he is on many an occasion.

A Man of Integrity is a political and social commentary that wears it all on its sleeve. But it’s also a movie that asks you how average, uncorrupted people should live their lives in the face of the autocratic and oppressive societies they live in. I’m not sure the movie has the answers, but it does have a strong exploration of one possibility.

A Man of Integrity is playing in select theaters beginning June 17th.


A Man of Integrity
  • 7.5/10
    Rating - 7.5/10
7.5/10

TL;DR

A Man of Integrity is a political and social commentary that wears it all on its sleeve. But it’s also a movie that asks you how average, uncorrupted people should live their lives in the face of the autocratic and oppressive societies they live in. I’m not sure the movie has the answers, but it does have a strong exploration of one possibility.