Rajeev Masand’s Movie Review of The Salesman

There is no black and white in Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi’s films, and seldom will you find a villain. Much like life itself, the characters in his films are ordinary people, and Farhadi puts them in testing situations, leaving you to watch as small, usually domestic issues build up to massive, life-changing events. If you’ve watched A Separation or About Elly, you would know that ambiguity is key to his stories, and there are no easy pay-offs. What you’re rewarded with in the end is usually an honest, powerful study of complex human emotions.
The Salesman, his latest, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film last month, is about a youngish couple whose relationship is put under severe strain in the wake of a traumatic incident.
Opening with a moment that can only be viewed as a metaphor for their own marriage, part-time theatre actors Emad and Rana must quickly move out when cracks begin to appear in their flat as a result of a nearby construction. Not long after, in the apartment they rent out from a friend, Rana is attacked while she’s in the shower.
The specific nature of the attack is never made clear, and like the protagonists, we piece together the jigsaw with the small bits of information that are fed to us sporadically. Like the revelation of the identity of the previous tenant and how that may be connected to the attack on Rana. What we know for sure is that the couple is deeply affected by the incident, although their way of dealing with it couldn’t be more different.
To give away any more about the plot would be to ruin the experience for you so I won’t go into any detail, except to say that what begins as a slow-burning drama that might occasionally make you restless, skillfully turns into a tense thriller. Farhadi explores themes of shame, masculinity, revenge, and forgiveness while sitting back and watching as your loyalties shift between characters.
Emad and Rana are working in a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman from which this film get its title, but the thematic parallels are a bit tenuous. The performances are solid, particularly Shahab Hosseini’s excellent portrayal of Emad as a man who gives in to obsession and risks losing everything.
I’m going with four out five for The Salesman. I strongly recommend that you make the time for it. Farhadi is one of the great observers of human nature, and although this film is a bit dry in comparison to his previous gems and not quite the masterpiece that A Separation was, it is nevertheless a compelling, strong piece of work that will leave you pondering the many delicate questions it raises.

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