The Salesman: ordinary people, ordinary lives

The Salesman, a film by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, follows teacher and actor Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) as they rehearse for an adaptation of Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. After being forced to move into a new apartment due to structural damage, they are unaware that it was previously occupied by an alleged prostitute. When one of her old clients makes an unexpected visit, they find themselves starring in a drama of their very own, which will strain their relationship to the very limit.

The film was a huge success at Cannes last year, and really, it’s no surprise that The Salesman was a festival darling, with its honest and touching performances and dark drama. Hosseini and Alidoosti are standouts, and very convincing as a husband and wife who are trying to figure out how they can still love each other. Like Fireworks Wednesday (2006), a previous film by Farhadi, The Salesman explores the theme of a home being thrown into chaos. Many of the scenes are set in Rana and Emad’s apartments, both stuck in states of disarray: the old, empty and broken, and the new, filled with stuff there isn’t quite room for, and the belongings of the previous tenant she refuses to come and pick up. Like the empty apartments, Rana and Emad find their state of normality destroyed.

The Salesman is a film that plays its cards close to its chest; one almost feels like one of Emad’s students as you try to decipher what the characters are thinking.  Parallels are constantly drawn between Emad and his character from Death of a Salesman, Willy, and those familiar with Miller’s play will be able to gain much more from the film. Unfortunately, a lot of depth may be to lost to those who will not pick up on the similarities.

Like the characters in the play they are performing, the characters in The Salesman are ordinary people living ordinary lives. The cinematography, by Hossein Jafarian, pays homage to this – its simple, understated, but beautiful, giving us intimate close ups that showcase the nuances of the actors’ performances.

It takes a certain kind of person to enjoy a film like this, but it does reward those who are willing to stick around and pay close attention. It captured mine throughout the whole ride – inducing both compassion and disgust in equal measure – as the plot takes a dark turn toward revenge in the final act. The Salesman is an intriguing story of a home and relationship destroyed, told skilfully by Farhadi and his cast, and is well worth its two hour running time if you’ve got the patience for it.

Score: 7/10

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