Film Review: The Salesman
THE SALESMAN (2016) DIR. ASGHAR FARHADI
The salesman to which the title refers is Willy Loman, the protagonist in the Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman. The oddness of this most American of plays being rehearsed in the country of Iran sets the tone for the dramatic sensibility of the film which surrounds it. It has the feel of a staged production with it’s pared down sets, cinema-verité cinematography, and lack of special effects or sound track. The film, which won this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Film, is the second Oscar win for Asghar Farhady, whose last film, The Separation, won in 2012.
The two leads, Rana (Taraneh Alidootsi) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini), are a married couple who are in rehearsal playing the married couple, Linda and Willy Loman, in Death of a Salesman. Their lives have some parallels insofar as incidents, which happen to one of them, cause far- reaching consequences to their relationship with each other. In the case of Rana and Emad, they are abruptly forced to leave their apartment as their building has developed a dangerous crack, which renders it in danger of collapsing. They are offered a temporary living space by one of their cast mates who owns a building and has an apartment recently vacated by a tenant with a shady past. She is a woman “with a lot of acquaintances” and has left a lot of her possessions behind.
Shortly after moving in, a frightening home invasion occurs while Rana is alone in the shower. It is not shown or even explained and is left intentionally a mystery. We find out along with Emad who comes home to find blood all over the bathroom floor, with his wife in the hospital in a traumatized state. She is unable and/or unwilling to say exactly what happened which makes Emad half crazy with impotent anger. His concern for his wife is mixed with guilt for not being able to protect her, which is a challenge to his masculinity. It is not clear whether there has been sexual or physical assault and Rana refuses to talk about it so there can be no police involvement, which leaves Emad no choice but to try to unravel it himself.
Once he gets close to the perpetrator he changes from a sensitive, caring human being to a terrifying avenger. It is only when he actually has his man that his better angels come back to mitigate his desire for revenge. The action which has been a slow simmer for most of the film reaches a roiling boil at the end in a high theatrical drama. Hosseini is riveting to watch as all of his emotions are subtly indicated in the gaze of his intense dark, brooding eyes. Alidootsi has the pained and knowing expression of a Madonna as she passively yet resolutely refuses to give fuel to the fire, which she sees consuming her husband. All of the acting is superb and the two leads are beautifully paired. It is very satisfying theatre.