The Salesman: Film Review – Oscar-worthy Cinematic Brilliance

Verdict: A gripping tale depicting nuances of human emotions.

In one of the best political standoffs in USA’s cinema history, The Salesman, directed by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi saw thousands of protestors attending a massive screening of the recent Academy award winning film as part of its #LondonIsOpen campaign. Of course, we are referring here to Donald Trump’s executive order emerging out of America’s Islamophobia. The film, thus received a lot of attention internationally, with people comparing the film’s themes to global political scenarios.

No doubt, Iran is a cultural centre wrought with vital yet a developing art scene comprising traditional forms of art. Emerging from this cultural treasure-trove is yet another modernist theatre-lover-cum-excellent-filmmaker Asghar Farhadi.

What is spectacularly noteworthy is how Farhadi uses an American play as a background to narrate stories of his characters. The Iranian drama begins with the shot of a crumpled bed, astonishing when viewed in the Iranian sense of morality. Soon, we realize the bed is part of a set for a theatre production’s adaptation of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Theatre has a charm of its own and with this scene, Farhadi sets a perfect introduction to the beautiful voyage he is about to take viewers on.

The next moment we see a middle-aged married couple Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana Etesami (Taraneh Alidoosti) becoming homeless post cracks and fissures in their apartment, an allegory to what future holds for the couple’s married life. In addition to being a theatre actor, Edam is also a literature teacher. One of the film’s integral scene takes place in a short classroom where we find Edam discussing the story of The Cow, a phenomenal work by a leading Persian literary figure, whose film adaptation saw the surge of the Iranian New Wave of the 1970s. The Cow talks about an emotional upheaval in the life of a man who finds himself turning insane after the death of his cow. He begins to imagine himself as his beloved animal. Emad’s answer to one of his pupils when the latter asks how a man turns into a cow is downright deep with hidden meanings related to the story of The Salesman.

Moving further, we find that one of Edam’s theatre colleagues helps the couple move into a spacious apartment that initially makes their lives look perfect. The subtleties regarding the previous tenant’s embroiled life are evocated through symbols of a messy room and the tenant’s refusal to take back her belongings. The film’s turning point comes with the shower scene (yes, as integral as Psycho’s, yet enormously subtle) when Edam’s wife is assaulted by an intruder. Nothing about the actual events inside the shower is narrated or revealed anywhere. We just know that Rana is sexually assaulted by the previous tenant, a supposedly promiscuous woman’s client and she ends up with multiple stitches on her head. Edam’s stunned reactions shed a lot of light on his changing ideas about himself. He begins to get more and more obsessed with finding the culprit and nuances of male ego, male pride and manhood keep reflecting on the screen as you witness the psychological change in Emad’s character. Rana wants her husband’s emotional support and she wants to forget the incident. However, Emad’s priority is set – to find the assaulter, and he keeps chasing it. Throughout the film, we find the characters finding a voice for their emotions in their improvised dialogues on the theatre stage while performing Arthur Miller’s tragic story. At last, Emad manages to discover the client. In the flawless final scene full of suspense and uncertainty, the film serves a nail-biting climax leaving viewers with an ocean of possible deductions. The film ends with a notable aura of theatre and all that it symbolizes – the people, the actors, the emotions, the fakeness – everything.

The Salesman, though not directly sharing thematic similarities with Arthur Miller’s classic, does convey the same sense of desperation in Emad’s character as of the protagonist in the book. Farhadi does a wonderful job of juxtaposing the film’s unsaid moments with the acts taking place on the stage. Shahab Hosseini proved his mettle as one of the leading Iranian actors through a meticulous flow of emotions. The intricacies within his sentiments regarding his wife and self-worth will definitely keep you engaged with the couple’s deteriorating relationship. Taraneh Alidoosti as Rana perfectly embodies the shame associated with sexual assaults as well the perplexing situation of revenge versus compassion she finds herself in, through her powerful acting onscreen. The supporting cast leaves an equally strong mark and nowhere will you find any scene or character not contributing to the plot’s development.

All in all, the movie is a cinematic delight and the way its projects human emotions and the grey shades of human behavior is truly worth appreciation.

Why You Should Watch This Movie:

Watch this Oscar-winning poignant drama to appreciate the beauty of art cinema and also to understand the nuances of what drives human emotions. If nothing else drives you, just go and watch to find why everyone is full of praises for it. 

Release Date: 31 Mar, 2017
Language: English
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Genre: Thriller, Drama
Cast & Crew: Taraneh Aliddosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi
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