The Salesman has everything you’re looking for in a Asghar Farhadi film. All of the trademarks you’ve come to know and love are there in spades. You have the concealment of trauma from the audience (and many of the characters). You have the very intimate camera work. And you have plenty of brooding, captivating shots of the characters dealing with the complexities of their decisions. It would be almost impossible to argue that Farhadi is not an auteur.
This time he focuses on the story of one couple, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), who are theater actors living in Tehran. They are forced out of their apartment their building begins to collapse, and a fellow actor offers them an apartment he’s renting out. Rana is assaulted soon after moving in (she buzzes up a stranger and leaves the door unlocked assuming it is Emad). Although it’s unclear what actually happens during the assault, Emad and Rana quickly learn that the tenant before them (a mysterious woman) had quite the reputation, which leads Emad on a quest to figure out who attacked Rana and what actually happened. Throughout the madness that is going on in their personal life, Emad and Rana perform as Willy and Linda Loman from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in a local theater.
Farhadi’s movies are known for their intimate moments, and this film dives deeper into a single relationship than any of his other more recent films. We get to see the struggle Rana faces after the assault, her desperation to get things back to normal, in ways both big and small. Likewise, we see Emad’s bravado, thinking he can single handedly capture her attacker, and all the subtle ways the people around him influence his decisions. The more distant and discordant they get from one another, the closer we get to the both of them. Of course, none of this could be pulled off without Hosseini’s and Alidoosti’s excelling acting. Hosseini is as charismatic and brooding as ever, while Alidoosti – who played the titular role in Farhadi’s About Elly – carries both kindness and inner strength, even at her most vulnerable, that is thoroughly impressive.
There is a bleakness that permeates the film. The apartment is dark and cramped. The theater stage is always dark, despite the neon lights of the backdrop and the bright lights. Even the green room where Rana waits for Emad is lit with some sort of dark and terrible office light. Although, it is their old apartment that represents Rana and Emad’s story the best. When they finally return to it together (cracked and full of debris, but not totally collapsed), they are very literally standing in the hollowed out shell of their relationship. They (especially Emad) make their worst decisions while standing in the place where they were the happiest. Farhadi’s camera lingers not only on their faces, but on the physical manifestations of their relationship.
This movie ekes and bleeds with Farhadi’s style, and while I very much enjoyed it, I’m not sure how many more times I want to go down this path with Farhadi. Perhaps it’s because this film feels much slower than the rest. Every aspect (except for the assault) is drawn out in a way that occasionally becomes exhausting. If anything, The Salesman is missing Farhadi’s usually excellent pacing. The more I think about it, the more this film feels like the exact opposite of The Past, a movie I’ve come to appreciate more. Despite it’s heart wrenching story, that film was still full of moments that had a bit of optimism. Scenes that felt like a breath of fresh air. Nothing in The Salesman feels like that. If anything, it’s a movie that forces you to hold your breath, waiting for their marriage to completely disintegrate.
Whether or not you’ve seen Farhadi’s movies before, it’s an important time to support Iranian filmmakers. As we mentioned on BYT yesterday, your wallet does more than your tweets ever will.