I took a year-long course in moral philosophy back in 1969-1970 at the American University of Beirut. Grading was based on each student’s individual growth in moral development as demonstrated by a series of interviews and essays regarding values. Our final essay topic was on the value of suffering. At the time I struggled. How is suffering related to moral growth?
Mohammad Rasoulof’s recently released film, “A Man of Integrity,” has the answer. Both the plot of the film and the story of the filmmaker’s own life could have been used as sources in my paper on the challenges inherent in living a truly moral life.
After the film’s initial release in France in 2017, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Court sentenced Rasoulof to one year in prison with a two-year ban on leaving the country. Earlier this summer, on July 8, he was again arrested. This time, he has been held in solitary confinement in Tehran’s Evin Prison where Iran’s political prisoners are customarily incarcerated (Variety, July 9, 2022).
Rasoulof’s award-winning feature films have been banned in Iran since 2016, when the filmmaker dropped the metaphors in his films and presented stories realistically reflecting life in Iran. This film, “A Man of Integrity,” won the Cannes Un Certain Regard in 2018.
Quickly after Rasoulof’s arrest with two other filmmakers this July, Cannes issued this statement: “The Festival de Cannes strongly condemns these arrests as well as the wave of repression obviously in progress in Iran against its artists. The Festival calls for the immediate release of Mohammad Rasoulof, Mostafa Aleahmad and Jafar Panahi.”
In the film, Reza (played to angst-ridden perfection by Reza Akhlaghirad) becomes a beleaguered landowner who finds his lifework, his family, his dwelling and even his life threatened by mafia-like leadership in his area of northern Iran where governance is apparently driven by bribes, threats, and graft.
After an activist college life, Reza finds he must relocate to a rural area. He buys land on credit which is the first stepping stone to trouble.
It turns out a party boss is in cahoots with the bank and ultimately wants to stymie the pay-back so that he can acquire Reza’s land. When his wife, played by the lovely Soudabeh Beizaee, tries to put leverage on a party boss’s child at her school, disaster occurs.
In the meantime, Reza is courted by those wishing him to take over as mayor. If he accepts he will be the boss of the mafia-like ring and be able to keep his land and eliminate the threat to his family. But as the “boss” he will also be required by those he bosses to continue with their extortion. He must choose between integrity and survival.
So, back to my final ethics paper. What is the role of suffering in maintaining one’s values and integrity? In this film, in order to have integrity (in a corrupt society), an individual must renounce self-interest, and in that sense, be involved in some amount of self-sacrifice, or suffering, in following absolute values. For Reza, he has a choice. Unfortunately for Rasoulof, his consequence became prison.
Corruption, greed, oppression and all kinds of political intrigue occur around the world through income inequality, racial bias and political party maneuvers. To avoid suffering and still have integrity, it would take an entire population to renounce hierarchy and work for the common good, which is basically antithetical to human nature.
In Iran, the film’s plot obviously so embarrassed Iran’s Revolutionary Court that they have been willing to risk international scandal by banning the film and incarcerating the filmmaker. This only makes us question the country’s integrity more.
While “A Man of Integrity” has lapses in plot development, perhaps just from a western perspective, the longer you stick with it the more you get caught up in the depth of your own soul’s conflicts. It is a diamond in the rough
Director/Writer/Producer: Mohammad Rasoulof
Co-Producers: Kaveh Farnam, Rozita Hendijanian, and Michal Krecek
Cast: Reza Akhlaghirad, Soudabeh Beizaee, Nasim Adabi, Missagh Zareh, and Zeinab Shabani
Official Website: http://bigworldpictures.org/films/manofintegrity/index.html
US Release: June 17 in NYC and June 24 in LA
. . .
Join us on Facebook at