The Salesman (12a)

Nov 15, 2017
Cranbrook Film Society

This is an elegant understated film, tense and unpredictable. It charts a husband’s response to his wife’s assault, against the background of their both acting in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”. Social comment is woven so skillfully into the film and the play within it, that we come to realize the nature of shame in modern Iran. Look out for stellar performances by Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini as Rana and Emad.

Asghar Farhadi | Iran/France | 2016 | 124 mins | 12

“The appearance in Cannes of Asghar Farhadi’s interesting if contrived drama Forushande, or The Salesman, is a moment to ponder if a new genre of world cinema is being born: The Haneke/Antonioni Shock Event. Some nice, complacent middle-class people tootle along with their lives and then they’re sideswiped by a horrible event — mysterious, anonymous and malevolent —which shatters their calm and cracks open the carapace of their daily routine. It reveals the raw nerve of guilt and shame within.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian.

Bradshaw likens this film to the works of the cerebral and provocative Austrian Director, Haneke, whose intention is to disturb and disorient his viewers, to assault them out of their habitually passive ways of perceiving reality. Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi certainly achieves this in “The Salesman”. He blends political comment with personal drama in this intricately constructed film. We follow the fortunes of a husband and wife (Rana played by Taraneh Alidoosti and Emad played by Shahab Hosseini) as they act in an amateur production of Arthur Miller’s 1949 play “Death of a Salesman”, as Willy Loman and his wife Linda. There are subtle parallels for those familiar with the play, and you will get more out of the film if you have chance to read up on it in advance, or indeed have seen it.

The film starts with a powerful metaphor. Rana and Emad’s home is damaged. They have to leave it and move to a new apartment that is visually claustrophobic and unsafe. This sets the scene for and hints at the brooding nature of the mystery/ drama that unfolds.

Censorship and morals are key elements in the film. This is most apparent in the play within the film. The adultereress in the Miller play has to wear a raincoat for decency, innermost thoughts cannot be expressed and text is censored. Injustice is integral to the system and its effects seem almost ludicrous to those outside it. Despite the obvious social criticism this Oscar winning film was named best film at the 17th Hafez Awards, Iran’s first and only private awards in the film industry and TV productions.

This is a film about vengeance, retribution and justice; obsession, honour and humiliation through patriarchy. Whether the protagonists emerge as heroes or victims depends partly on the repressive State and partly on the actions of the individuals concerned. You decide the role of each in this uncomfortable and tense film.

The lead actors are terrific, but are perhaps overshadowed by Babak played by Babak Karimi. It would spoil the plot to say much more about him at this stage, other than “unseen and unheard” which perhaps sums up the entire film.

This is an understated, subtle film. We see little actual brutality and are indeed never entirely sure what happened at all. What we do see is the power of imagination and how destructive silence can be. My view by the end was that the main event in this film is a mere storm in a teacup. The real interest is analysing how and why the contents of that teacup managed to drench such a large area.


            Weighted vote 84.3%