Film Review: The Salesman

Asghar Farhadi’s latest Persian–language effort The Salesman (his seventh film, although his true breakthrough internationally was his fifth, A Separation) is also his darkest.

While A Separation and The Past are pointed studies of the complexities of extended family and religion in difficult contemporary times, this is a fully–fledged attack on his home country.

A happy middle–class couple in Tehran, popular teacher Emad and stay–at–home Rana (played by regular Farhadi collaborators Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti), are part of a semi–professional theatrical troupe that’s soon to put on a performance of Arthur Miller’s 1949 play Death of a Salesman, but they’re also distracted by needing to find a new apartment to rent after their previous building nearly collapses.

When they move into a flat full of someone else’s belongings (leading to symbolic images when these forgotten possessions are put out in the rain), it becomes clear that the last tenant was a prostitute who serviced shady characters, and then Rana is violently beaten and possibly raped (off-screen) by one of them.

There are parallels between Death of a Salesman’s Willy Loman (and his wife Linda) and Emad and Rana’s relationship as cracks start to appear. Farhadi allows the script to focus mostly upon Emad and for his quiet rage and need for revenge to take over the story. Rana refuses to go to the police (for obvious reasons) and wants to forget the whole terrible thing, but Emad won’t let it go because, of course, it’s a question of honour (a key word here that’s not quite used – or at least in the subtitles).

Despite a forgivable contrivance or two this is powerful cinema, with tremendous playing by Farhadi’s ensemble and a surprising sense of dread not present in his previous work. You do also have to wonder why the Iranian government keeps on helping finance his films (usually with French and Italian assistance) when he’s so bravely and intensely critical of them, but then again he is probably the best–known and most acclaimed filmmaker working in that country at the moment, so they’d look damn foolish if they didn’t.

Rated M. The Salesman is in cinemas now.

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