A brilliant and stirring new film, “The Salesman,” has arrived, a work written and directed by superb Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi (“A Separation”). At last year’s Cannes Film Festival, it won for best screenplay and best actor and it has just been nominated for an Oscar in the Foreign Language category. It is easy to see why.
One aspect that adds interest is that Emad (Shab Hosseini) and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) play actors appearing in Teheran in an Iranian production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” It is fascinating to watch a cast shown at work putting on this classic American play.
The main situation arises out of a crisis involving a collapsing structure of the building in which Emad and Rana live. It is necessary for them to evacuate speedily and find another apartment, which they do. However, they do not know of what previously occurred in their new quarters, which had been occupied by a prostitute.
There is an attack upon Rana by a mysterious stranger, and she has been shattered by the experience. Was it just an assault, or did it include rape? Her husband is properly furious and wants to get to the bottom of the mystery and wreak revenge on the culprit. He suspects a delivery man.
Farhadi’s enormous skill is displayed in how he develops various plot threads that make what could be a simple mystery a complex study of a human tragedy stemming from this incident. The more that is revealed, the greater the emotional involvement between the characters—and for the audience.
Emad is consumed by his hunger for revenge, much to the exasperation of his wife, who would rather forget the situation, which she didn’t want to report to the authorities. (If a woman is raped in Iran, even as the victim she bears a stigma.) When Rana learns what is at stake for a particular family, her humanity leads to a sharp rift with Emad, and we can only suspect the toll this will ultimately take on their relationship.
All of the acting is exceedingly good, from the principals to the subordinate players. The direction builds the film stealthily, raising the ante for all concerned as the story progresses. “The Salesman” is packed with atmosphere and mounting tension, and it powerfully involves the audience by the time the mystery is discovered. The year is young, but “The Salesman,” which had a limited run elsewhere in 2016 for Oscar qualification, now also stands out as a potential for 2017 best lists. A Cohen Media Group release. Reviewed January 25, 2017.