STARS: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidooosti, Babak Karimi
DIRECTOR: Asghar Farhadi
The Salesman isn't about how different it is to be a young-ish married couple living in Iran from their counterparts in the United States. It's about how similar it can be.The difference being, of course, that in Iran they live under a repressive regime where what can be performed onstage, for example, may be screwed with and altered at the whim of government censors. Though right up until the 1957 landmark court case that centered around Allen Ginsburg's epic poem, "Howl," there were similar restrictions on freedom of public expression that existed here in the states. (Check with the ghost of Lenny Bruce for further details.)
Our couple, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), are performers in a Tehran production of Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman. Emad mentions in passing that three lines from the play might come under scrutiny from the censors. Once we are past that, The Salesman is a purely personal story of two people working on issues in their marriage.
While taking a shower, Rana is attacked by an unknown assailant who has crept into their apartment. Emad finds her at the hospital with a head wound. Keeping a stiff upper lip, she denies being raped to save her husband further anguish, but we can put two and two together. The plot centers around his personal detective work in tracking down the perpetrator. The twist at the climax is that it's not someone we would normally suspect. The way that retribution will come down upon this person becomes a source of conflict between Emad and Rana, rattling the very foundation of their relationship. When is compassion more appropriate than punishment? That's the food for thought you'll be munching on as you leave the theater.
It's up to interpretation what the intended metaphor of Arthur Miller's play is to the relationship between this couple; though as performers they have a public persona to maintain...a mask to put on...the show must go on and all that rot, while behind the scenes the growing strain on their marriage shows on their faces.
The Salesman won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film of 2016. Filled with noteworthy performances, it follows in the footsteps of director Asghar Farhadi's other cinematic gem, A Separation (2011). It's something of a slow mover in the beginning, but the fireworks at the end are well worth the wait.
Ultimately, it's about people and how they struggle with the basic questions of relationship and existence. And that transcends geographical and political boundaries.
After reading Tim's review of this film, I feel guilty not liking it more. I loved one aspect of the premise, i.e. how will an Iranian husband – as opposed to an American one -- deal with his wife's abuser? Good question! (And I'm not about to reveal the answer!)
But what exactly does the subplot of Death Of A Salesman have to do with anything? That's my main gripe. If, as Tim opines, it's about this couple's public persona versus their private angst, I feel far too much cinematic time was spent on it. This also leads to another complaint of mine: The film's innocuous title, The Salesman. Really?! (I wish I knew the literal translation of Forushande.)
It does leave the viewer asking lots of questions upon leaving the theater which I suppose is a good thing. Was the wife really raped or simply beaten up? Was the perpetrator "acting" physically frail and sickly? Was the couple's marriage in trouble before this incident happened? Will it survive this trauma?
The acting was superb. I especially liked and believed the fellow who played the attacker, Babak. Kudos to Babak Karimi. But when I think of other Best Foreign Movie award winners such as The Bicycle Thief,Rashomon, Black Orpheus, TheVirgin Spring, 8 ½, Seven Beauties, Cinema Paradiso, Life Is Beautiful (the list is endelss, really), this one got lucky.