The Salesman (2016)


Asghar Farhardi’s The Salesman illuminates universal moral arguments about masculinity by presenting them in parallel with a production of Arthur Miller’s stage play in contemporary Iran.

The Apartment

by Alexa Dalby

The Salesman

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

The Salesman starts dramatically with an extended scene of panic as residents flee a collapsing apartment building in Tehran. Maybe it’s a metaphor for what is about to happen. Now homeless, a professional, middle-class couple (Rana: Taraneh Alidoosti, and Emad: Shahab Hosseini) are offered an apparently empty flat that’s owned by the director of the play (Babak Karimi), Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, that they are both appearing in, playing husband and wife. At first all seems fine, although the previous tenant seems to have left suddenly, hasn’t collected her belongings and the neighbours seem wary. Then one evening, while Rana is alone in the flat washing her hair, she buzzes in through the entry phone what she thinks is her husband returning from work and instead is violently attacked by an unseen intruder.

Rana is seriously hurt, but it’s never revealed exactly what happened to her, though it emerges gradually that the previous occupant of the flat was a prostitute and that the intruder was probably a client who thought she was still living there. The focus is on Emad’s reaction and how it affects their relationship. He finds a mobile phone and car keys in the flat that must have been dropped by the assailant and he becomes obsessed with tracking him down. But in single-mindedly pursuing this course, he is oblivious to the needs of the victim, his deeply traumatised wife.

As Emad’s quest develops, it’s intercut with scenes of the stage play in rehearsal and in performance. When he eventually finds the man he thinks is responsible, his revenge will consist of getting this person to admit his guilt to his family. There’s a long, suspenseful scene of humiliation and empathy where Emad confronts someone. We see how the effects of these actions spiral out into unforeseeable consequences, not just for Emad and Rana and for whoever may be guilty, but for the innocent as well.

As in his previous films A Separation, The Past and About Elly, Asghar Farhardi lucidly teases out increasingly complex moral arguments and his storytelling is compelling.

The Salesman premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, won Best Foreign Language Film at the 2017 Oscars and is released on 17 March 2017 in the UK.

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