THE SALESMAN (Iran/France 2016) ****

the_salesman_poster.jpgDirector: Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Asghar Farhadi
Stars: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi

Review by Gilbert Seah

Winner of the Best Script and Best Actor (Shahab Hosseini) prizes at 2016 Cannes,THE SALESMAN, the third film from the Iranian director of UNE SEPARATION and LE PASSE once again deals with domestic problems of a husband and wife in a suspense whodunit Hitchcockian setting.
Rana (Tararne Alidoosti) and her high-school teacher husband Emad (Hosseini) have moved quickly into their new apartment after an earthquake deemed their last place too dangerous to live. At the new place, just before going into the shower, Rana buzzes someone up thinking the person to be her husband. A stranger turns up in the bedroom. Rana ends up in hospital with bruises. The husband seeks revenge. In whodunit style, he traces keys and cellphone to the person responsible. The last 20 minutes has Emad confronting the perpetuator with unexpected results.

THE SALESMAN of the film title refers to the Pulitzer Wining 1949 Arthur Miller play, DEATH OF A SALESMAN. Emad is in a current production of the play with him playing the main character of the salesman, Willy with Rana playing the wife. There are of course parallels between the play and Emad’s real life. Both Willy and Emad seek the perfect life (as Willy in Miller’s play searches the American Dream), but fate hands out a different deck of cards. When Emad faces the man who committed the crime, a hidden crisis in his marriage relationship resurfaces – and he has to deal with it.

Unlike Farhadi’s other two films, THE SALESMAN moves at a slower pace and has more hidden agenda. Things are not what they seem. For one, the wife is a bundle of contradictions. She wants her husband to spend more time at home, but she wants personal solitude. When the husband finds the culprit, she wants the husband to let him go.

Farhadi also deals out slices of Iranian life in his film. The audience gets to see how the people live in Tehran where the story is set. The evacuation at the film’s start show how Iranians live. They take care of their disabled family members. The perpetuator’s family that show up at the end of the film depict the strong bond of Iranian family culture. One segment in Emad’s classroom reflects what the school system is like – and humorously. In one funny scene, a fat student quizzes Emad how possible it is in a literature text for a man to turn into a cow, only to be commented by a fellow pupil if he had recently looked into the mirror.

What is also immediately noticeable about Farhadi’s filming is his camera placement. At the film’s start, the stationary camera captures effectively the mayhem of the building evacuation. From the camera behind a window, a bulldozer can be seen. The climax of the film has the camera placed so that the characters move into the frame where the entire action then takes place.

At the end of the film,when the audience sits back to consider the consequences of the incidents that have unfolded on screen, one realizes that the impact is on the individual. The culprit is not sent to jail and the husband has not punished the wife’s attacker. The film leaves an open ending on how the revelation of events affect each character in the story. And his is what makes Farhadi’s film stand out.

THE SALESMAN has been nominated for the Academy award for Best Foreign Language Film. Director Farhadi has announced that he will not attend the ceremonies because of President’s Trump controversial travel ban.


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