English Title: The Salesman
Original Title: Forushande
Country: Iran, France
Language: Persian, English
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Director/Writer: Asghar Farhadi
Music: Sattar Oraki
Cinematography: Hossein Jafarian
Farid Sajjadi Hosseini
Maral Bani Adam
Iranian moral dramatist Asghar Farhadi’s seventh feature THE SALESMAN wins him a second Oscar in the BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE PICTURE bloodbath amid a political fracas, which in my humble opinion irrevocably influences the end result.
The titular salesman refers to our protagonist Emad (Cannes’ BEST ACTOR recipient Hosseini), however he is not a salesman by vocation, but a high school teacher presently headlining a play of Arthur Miller’s DEATH OF A SALESMAN, in which his wife Rana (Alidoosti) also stars. In the movie’s opening, they are evacuating from a collapse-prone building where they live, and among all the ruckus, Farhadi smartly bookends it with two cracks on a windowpane before showing us an excavator working on the ground outside, a brilliant visual pointer to adumbrate what comes next: Emad and Rana’s genial relationship is going to crumble after an incident, and the rest of the film will sure-footedly take us to comb through their ordeal and elicit what is the crux.
The incident occurs in the new apartment where the pair just moves in, although Farhadi opts to keep the happening off the screen, when someone buzzes their door, Rana takes its as given that it is Emad and leaves the door open without asking who it is (a plot devise looks implausible falling upon a Muslim woman who is alone at home, in the buff, though Farhadi furnishes the couple with a more Westernized predisposition), and later is assaulted by a man when she is in the bath, blood is spattered but she survives.
Few details are revealed by a traumatized Rana, to an extend it, purposefully, hinders viewers’ final verdict on this atrocity, it seems like the old chestnut of leaving audience to formulate their own judgement, but in this case, it recoils on our perception of the story after its lachrymose climax, during which Farhadi makes great play of his compassion manipulation excesses.
But which side should we take is precisely predicated upon the missing pieces, otherwise, the entire drama degrades into a moot point. We can side with a perturbed Emad, who takes it on himself to track down the assaulter and implement his eye-for-an-eye revenge even impelled by Rana to keep the truth under wraps from the assailant’s family, or conversely, we should feel disposed towards Rana’s magnanimous gesture, even a sordid soul deserves some sympathy, or, more perniciously, is there a sideswipe on her too, because she should be partially responsible for what happened to her and should her relenting smack of an atonement for her own slip-up? Farhadi takes chances of complicating the central mind game out of artistic license, but the catch is that, regarding the situation’s nature, this is not a case of splitting the difference, there are ambiguity residing in this imperfect patriarchal society where shame/humiliation often linked with a putrid waft of machismo and hubris, but if we look it through a more matter-of-fact angle, Rana is the victim here, both physically and mentally, why on earth she cannot have the final say on the subject matter? Maybe this is what Farhadi contends, but it doesn’t pack an epiphanic punch as his previous works have done.
Be that as it may, THE SALESMAN has its incontrovertible mastery in the vein, the paralleled three-act play-in-a-movie aptly mirrors Emad and Rana’s fix in the real world (disillusion is the commonality) and the film’s tension building-and-retaining process is par excellence in today’s cinema-scape. The leading roles are entrusted to two Farhadi’s frequent collaborators with arresting outcome, in particular, Shahab Hosseini amazingly holds sway as a reluctant terrorizer in the play off with a humbled Farid Sajjadi Hosseini, not the usual suspect of a sex offender, and not to mince words, Farhadi’s dramaturgy still rocks, but a fly in the ointment is that his hand-picked moral tale needs some tweaking.