THE SALESMAN (125 PG-13)
Forushande (The Salesman) is the story of a couple whose relationship begins to turn sour during their performance of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Writer: Asghar Farhadi
Stars: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti, Babak Karimi
Subtitled in English
Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” won Iran’s only Foreign Language Film Oscar a few years back.
Now the writer-director’s “The Salesman” is the country’s official entry for this year’s contest, and was screened at the AFI Festival in Los Angeles on Saturday.
In some ways it’s almost as good as Farhadi’s earlier humanist tragedy. In others, such as plot construction and interweaving complex moral with more traditional kinds of narrative suspense, “Salesman” is sometimes a superior achievement.
Seeing as how “Separation” was a perfect film, Farhadi is on quite a roll.
Farhadi regulars Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidootsi, who played the title role in the director’s 2009 “About Elly,” are Emad and Rana, a sophisticated and likable acting couple who are staging a production of “Death of a Salesman.” When their apartment building is damaged by nearby construction – something about urban development in Tehran these days, which also seems to involve a whole lot of feral cats – they temporarily move into a flat generously offered by a member of their troupe.
Unknown to them though, the previous tenant was a prostitute. After Rana is assaulted one night while home alone in the shower, Emad becomes obsessed with finding out which one of the other woman’s clients did the deed.
While Rana’s psyche crumbles and Emad turns darker, their modern Persian marriage falls prey to all the sexism, paranoia and mental brutality the Islamic theocracy can inspire, even among its best-educated liberals. All of that gets multiplied tenfold when Emad finally traps the culprit, in what may be the best-written and performed third act of any film this decade.
I’m not quite sure how Arthur Miller’s Willy Lowman is meant to mirror Emad throughout “The Salesman” – Western ideals crashing into a wall of grim reality, maybe? But I do know that by the time the movie climaxes, right, wrong, love, anger, justice, remorse, respect and understanding have all been put to the test and mostly found wanting.
Exquisite mysteries are solved in “The Salesman,” but it leaves you not knowing what to believe in.
– Bob Strauss, Los Angeles Daily News