The Salesman – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Asghar Farhadi
Stars: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi
On 27th January 2017, United States President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order which sought to prevent citizens of seven primarily Muslim countries from entering the United States of America. As “The Salesman” had been nominated by the Academy in Los Angeles for the accolade of best foreign film Asghar Farhadi, an Iranian and therefore a target of the executive order, issued a statement stating that he would not be attending the Oscar ceremony. He was as good as his word and when the Academy awarded “The Salesman” the prize Anousheh Ansari, an American Iranian businesswoman — the first Iranian to go to space — read a statement from Farhadi:
“It’s a great honor to be receiving this valuable award for the second time. I would like to thank the members of the academy, my crew in Iran, my producer, Amazon, and my fellow nominees.
I’m sorry I’m not with you tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other six nations whom have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the US. Dividing the world into the “us” and “our enemies” categories creates fear. A deceitful justification for aggression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which have themselves been victims of aggression. Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others. An empathy which we need today more than ever.”
So The Salesman has vicariously become a symbol against inhumane behaviour which seeks to divide the world into “us” and “our enemies”. The first film directed by Farhadi to win the Foreign Film Oscar was A Separation (2011). His is a voice of humane understanding and respect.
The film begins with a scene of panic as an apartment block of several stories is being evacuated because it shows signs of collapsing as a result of substantial earthworks, compromising its foundations, taking place on the adjacent site. The scene is one of fear and confusion. Two of the fleeing occupants are Emad Etesani (Shahah Hossein) and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti). They are a cultured couple. He teaches in a school and they are both in a production of “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller which performs the role of a play within a film. The building’s possible collapse means Emad and Rana are homeless but another member of the cast has an apartment which has fortuitously become available. But not quite, the previous occupant has not moved out the entire of her possessions.
These left overs represent a problem for Emad and Rana as they perpetuate an undefined presence of the previous occupier. In addition Rana receives an uninvited visitor when she is alone in the apartment. He (it would appear) had been a visitor to the previous occupier. He attacks Rana but then disappears leaving behind tell-tale clues. Emad is outraged but does not wish to go to the police as he appears not to trust them. Rana has been unsettled deeply by the incident but as time goes on Rana and Emad have diametrically opposed views as to what is to be done. This conflict drives the story. As Emad’s quest for the perpetrator intensifies the action reverts to the original apartment with its compromised foundations.
Alidoosti and Hossein are superb as the couple, as is the uninvited visitor, Farrid Sajjadi Hossein, a character of respectable shiftiness and two facedness. Farhadi creates a complex story of a whodunnit with an underlying whydunnit which gives glimpses of a relationship under pressure. All of this taking place under a political regime which cannot be trusted. Throughout the cinematography enhances the story as the cracking of window panes in the damaged block subtly demonstrates. In addition the return of the action to the compromised apartment block, underlines the increasing difficulties of the relationship between Emad and Rana. Farhadi meanwhile introduces some revelations in that compromised apartment which have similarities to Arthur Miller’s plot which is a play amongst other things about the faltering of the American dream.
Farhadi’s considered absence from the Oscar award winning ceremony underlines the short sightedness of creating laws which seek to demonise individuals on the basis of the creed or race from which they may emanate. He has made an intelligent and perceptive film. It is to be seen.