The Salesman

by Toby Woollaston

Much was made of The Salesman’s nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars this year.  The film’s Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi (A Separation), stated that he would not attend the ceremony due to Donald Trump’s executive order barring Iranians from entering in U.S., and upon winning, his prepared speech was instead read by proxy. Unfortunately, much of its sting was deflated due to the best picture announcement debacle, but it still raises questions over Farhadi’s Oscar nod being a protest vote. Some anti Trump sentiment by the voting Academy perhaps?  We’ll never know, and all I can offer is a critique of the film on it own merits.

Set in Tehran, a middle-class couple Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini) are forced from their apartment due to construction faults.  The opening scene that depicts the building’s imminent collapse is tense and superbly sets the film’s tone; clinically stark, devoid of warmth or any musical score and working within a very drained palette — a style that appears to be straight out of the Michael Haneke handbook (Amour, Funny Games). It is a stunning opening sequence nonetheless and works to facilitate the film’s brooding atmosphere and sense of tension.  The couple eventually find alternative accommodation, but only too late do they discover its previous tenant to be a prostitute who had unsavoury customers calling in at all hours. One night Rana buzzes open the door thinking that it must be her husband.  Big mistake. Her assault and the pursuit of the assailant brings about a captivating mystery that ends with an unexpected (if somewhat drawn-out) ending.

Unfortunately, the film presents a nagging problem throughout. In their spare time Rana and Emad are members of a theatre group who are putting on a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. There appears to be an assumption by Farhadi that the viewer has seen or read Millar’s play, which for me, has since been lost in the foggy memory of my final year at high school. Yet, it is obvious that the role Millar’s play has within the story is an important one, as is evident in the film’s title and most likely forms some sort of subtext that was unfortunately lost on me. Despite this, I found The Salesman a refreshing and taut mystery and perhaps a more informed critique might be offered if only I could remember that damn play … I blame my seventh form teacher.

You can see the published review here.