Review: The Salesman
The Salesman, the latest film from Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi, who has given us such modern classics as A Separation and About Elly, is an intriguing, suspenseful drama, about the lengths that some will go to in correct injustice in the face of misfortune.
It has more in common with his 2006 feature Fireworks Wednesday, in which the domesticity of a couple’s life is upended by tragedy. The star of that film Taraneh Alidoosti, is one-half of the young couple in this film, playing wife Rana to Shahab Hosseini’s Emad (another regular Farhadi collaborator). While Emad works as a teacher and Rana stays at home, they are also actors, in the process of putting on a play of Arthur Miller’s 'Death of a Salesman' and starring in the lead roles. The pair move into a new apartment after their previous home becomes too inhospitable to live in due to construction issues. They becomes mixed in with the affairs of the previous tenant, who vacated the premises leaving behind not only several possessions, but a history of affairs with several acquaintances who are used to dropping by. Emad decides to take matters into his own hands, setting in motion a grim outcome which parallels the play he is performing in ways than one.
It’s fascinating to watch how Farhadi writes the tragedy of this couple into the inner story of Miller’s play, and vice versa, as it breathes life into a classic text while also embedding the overarching story with a sense of poignancy. Hosseini, who portrays Emad portraying Willy Loman in the play, is a fairly reserved person from the start, but acting in the play night-after-night eventually changes his demeanor, causing him to become more obsessed with seeking to right a serious moral wrong. Contrasted with this is Alidoosti, playing Rana who becomes victimized in more ways than one, in her attempts to move on with the situation they have befallen into.
At its heart, The Salesman is a deeply compassionate, investigative film about the divide between men and women in modern Iranian society, and those willing to turn a blind eye to certain matters depending on which gender is involved. It also takes into account the role of the Iranian government, who strongly enforce regulations about what can and can’t be shown from a cultural standpoint – with Emad’s play being put on in secret and attendance coming strictly from a confined circle of close friends and supports of the local arts community.
Farhadi’s most popular work often features a pivotal gap in storytelling where a significant off-screen moment forms the crux of the story, leaving the audience to carefully observe every detail of what’s presented on-screen to reach a conclusion. This element continues into The Salesman, and works to great effect in allowing the viewer to empathize with each lead, despite holding questions as to the moment itself and whether a swift resolution or answer will emerge. Much of the story hinges on the last 20 minutes of the film, a point the film gradually builds toward from the end of the first act – however it doesn’t quite reach the same highs as A Separation, something that could have been corrected with a more equivocal ending.
The Salesman is another amazing work from Farhadi– especially in the current political climate of the United States that has barred the filmmaker from being able to attend the Academy Awards, where the film is nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. The core elements of the film hold universal values, and this is the kind of story which one could see happening in a multitude of different countries and cities. On top of being a deft drama with no easy answers, it is skillfully performed, written, and crafted, and absolutely worth your time.