A lesser effort by Farhadi in the bigger scheme of things, but it is no less an intricate drama on the vulnerabilities of human relationships.
Dir. Asghar Farhadi
2016 | Iran | Drama | 124 mins | 1.85:1 | Persian
PG (passed clean) for mature thematic elements and a brief bloody image
Cast: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi
Plot: Forced to leave their collapsing house, Ranaa and Emad, an Iranian couple who happen to be performers rehearsing for a play rent a new apartment from one of their fellow performers. But one night, something happens.
Awards: Won Best Actor & Best Screenplay (Cannes). Won Best Foreign Language Film (Oscar).
International Sales: Memento Films
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on screener – first published 15 Aug 2018)
Most cinephiles remember the controversy over Asghar Farhadi’s non-attendance at the 2017’s Oscars rather than the film itself, with Trump’s untimely ban on travellers from countries like Iran taking flight soon after he took office.
The Salesman ultimately, if unsurprisingly, won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film over the more favoured Toni Erdmann (2016), which until Trump’s controversial policy took effect was nearly a shoo-in for the Oscar.
Anyone with a sense of how politics could affect how people vote or react to circumstances far removed from its contentious arena would surely cite Farhadi’s film as a case study. It was surely a bittersweet win for him, though as some critics might put it, one not entirely earned through the fairest of competition.
“How do people turn to cows?”
The Salesman is Farhadi’s seventh feature to date, winning Best Actor for Shahab Hosseini and Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival. Beginning with an outstanding prologue that promises great things to come, The Salesman is terrifically absorbing in its first hour as Emad (Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), a married couple whose work is in theatre (in fact, they are stars of a new adaptation of Arthur Miller’s iconic 1949 play, ‘Death of a Salesman’), juggle the professional demands of their field with domestic problems.
Needing to find a space to rent after the previous building they have been staying in became architecturally unsafe, they temporarily got into one upon a colleague’s recommendation—and days later find themselves in a situation they would never have imagined.
Farhadi creates suspense and intrigue with aplomb, but when the film’s pivotal moment comes that irreversibly hurls it into the second act, he doesn’t show us anything (possibly because of strict censorship in his own country or it could be an artistic touch). Instead, he masterfully employs a haunting ellipsis.
The movie broke the opening box-office record when it was released in Iran and became the third highest grossing film in the country’s history.
However, as The Salesman progresses into its second hour, one can’t help but feel a loss in narrative momentum, as if Farhadi is (for once) struggling to decide how to steer the film and sustain the intrigue of the first half.
The bulk of the third act, set in an empty house, is almost like a chamber piece. While the last act feels unimaginatively conceived with some contrivances, Farhadi’s grasp of the vulnerabilities of human relationships remain firm, and is what brings the film over the finishing line without one too many a stumble.
Overall, The Salesman features excellent performances, but it feels like a lesser effort by a great filmmaker whose work here is solid but not particularly memorable.