The Salesman… beautifully shot, and perfectly acted. My only regret about seeing this movie is that I wish I’d seen it sooner. Filmed in 2016 by Asghar Farhadi, decorated director of such gems like About Elly and A Separation. The Salesman does most of its grim work in the compelling, quiet moments.
Seeing The Salesman out of the year of its debut allowed me to analyze the film better, however. I was absolutely intrigued by the idea of watching something from Iran. Iran is a country that remains largely a mystery to me. But they’re finally gaining hard-won recognition in the Western world for their extraordinary, cutting-edge filmmaking.
This is certainly true for Farhadi, who won the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year for The Salesman. This was his second Oscar, having won with A Separation in 2012. I’m over the moon with excitement for his latest and first non-Iran film starring Javier Bardem, Everybody Knows, whenever that film may come my way.
The Salesman is about a play within a movie. A married couple, Emad (Shahab Hosseini, winner for Best Actor at Cannes) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) work at a theatre as actors in a production of “Death of a Salesman”. In the classic play, itself a critique of the American dream, they play Willy and Linda Loman respectively. Outside of being paid actors in what we presume is something like dinner theater in Iran, Emad teaches at a local college. Due to a terrifying lack of regulations in zoning and building in their beloved neighborhood, their building suddenly, unpredictably becomes unsafe to live in.
Stranded and frustrated, Rana and Emad are stuck looking for a new place to live, until one of their fellow actors offers to rent them a place in a dodgier end of town. Upon moving in, they learn that their previous tenant left a number of belongings behind, locked in one room of a house. They acclimatize a bit to their new surroundings, hoping that their previous tenant will come for her things.
The neighbors all talk. Soon Emad learns that the previous tenant was a promiscuous woman. One with a child and who let johns into her home on a regular basis. Suddenly, when Emad is postponed after rehearsal late one evening, a tragic event occurs after Rana makes her way home alone to wash up.
Tackling boldly contentious issues such as women’s roles in society seems to be Farhadi’s forte. He does it here in The Salesman with ease. Using Death of a Salesman as a backdrop to the inner drama of the movie transports the audience into the conflict right away. With the talent of Hosseini and Alidoosti, we are transported, because they’re not just actors playing people, but actors playing actors. Are they keeping secrets from each other? Is there more to the intrigue than what Hosseini and Alidoosti’s slight glances are letting on. And so, you’re left either cheering for or against these characters, depending on how redemptive they seem.
The Salesman closes with a climax that you wouldn’t expect, but at the same time is incredibly fitting for the movie. Hitting all the right notes, the film asks many questions of its audience. And in turn, the audience should feel compelled to ask questions of their own. All good films do, and The Salesman is no exception.