“The Salesman” is genius Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi's latest work and is, yet again, an another accomplished effort. Seven films into his career and he has yet to direct a poor or even mediocre feature. However Farhadi's previous three features have been of the highest quality possible, that surely it would be impossible for anyone to sustain this level of quality over a long period of time, so was “The Salesman” the film that sees this run come to an end, or is this another five star achievement from this talented writer/director?
After being evicted from their dilapidated Tehran home on the grounds that it is no longer safe to reside in, married couple Emad and Rana consider themselves very lucky to quickly find a temporary home when Babak, their friend from their acting troupe, offers them one of his apartments after the previous tenant left suddenly. The pair quickly move in and continue with their lives, including their after hour rehearsals for their adaptation of the play, “The Death of a Salesman”, that is due to open in about a weeks time. One night after rehearsals, Rana heads on home alone and is then assaulted whilst taking a shower in their new apartment, in what appears to be a case of mistaken identity. When Emad arrives home to see what has happened, he becomes enraged and determined to find the culprit no matter what and making him pay for what he has done. It doesn't take long for Emad to discover that the whole situation may have to do with the previous tenant who lived in the apartment.
Most times when I review a film by Asghar Farhadi, I find myself talking about how he is a master of making his dramas play out like thrillers, often imbuing them with a real palpable suspense. With “The Salesman” however, he has actually added genuine thriller elements to his tale, particularly in Emad's attempts to find his wife's attacker and to make him pay. While these elements are certainly a large part of the film, it is still clear that Farhadi is more interested in the dramatic elements of his story, particularly how this sort of assault can effect a marriage, no matter how stable, and the way such a traumatic event differently effects men from women and vice versa. The main dramatic crux of “The Salesman” is the wedge that is created and grows between after the husband and wife after they react differently to the attack. Rana, the actual physical victim of the assault, is terrified by the ordeal and needs to feel safe and comforted by her husband from her fear, however she is taken aback when Emad seems blind to her needs and appears only to be focused on finding this man and making him pay. A number of times throughout the film, Rana asks Emad to drop it and be there for her, but it is almost like his manly ego has been pricked and to regain this, he feels he needs to be physically “doing” something to protect his wife, even if his actions are doing the exact opposite, by making her feel more alone.
At the recent Cannes Film Festival, Farhadi won the “Best Screenplay” award for “The Salesman”. This should come as no surprise because his scripts are always immaculate, right down to the tiniest detail, and yet this time, as good as it is, I don't feel his script is anywhere near as complex or precise as his previous two films. In fairness, both “The Past” and particularly “A Separation” are out and out masterpieces so comparing his latest to these two films almost seems unfair, but I just felt that “The Salesman” was a far simpler and more linear film and therefore left me wanting a little more. In this case, Farhadi is paying for the genius of his previous films and because of that I'm marking him very hard, and whilst there is nothing wrong with this simpler story, it's lack of complexity left me a little disappointed.
The other award “The Salesman” took out at Cannes this year was “Best Actor” for Shahab Hosseini, who plays Emad, and it is easy to see why. He is magnificent in the role and feels genuine throughout the entirety of his character's arc, which is significant. I thought he was spellbinding in the early scenes with him interacting with his students. He makes it very easy to see why the kids love and respect him so much and yet by the end of the film, it is hard to believe that this is the same man we saw laughing and joking with his students. However through Hosseini's superior performance, Emad's emotional journey always plays true. Emad's wife, Rana, is played by Taraneh Alidoosti, who is something of a Farhadi regular. This is her fourth collaboration with the director and their first since they worked together in 2009's brilliant “About Elly”. I am a big fan of Alidoosti, she is a fantastic actress and stunningly gorgeous too. She has the less flashy role in “The Salesman”; it is less about her actions and more about her reactions to the drama going on around her, and she nails every moment. She is particularly strong and heartbreaking during a scene when she breaks down during a performance of “The Death of a Salesman” and cannot continue to go on. It is a piece of sublime acting.
After making “The Past” in France, “The Salesman” is something of a homecoming for Farhadi as this new film was shot and takes place once again in Iran, and with it comes the pared back visual style. He is all about presenting his story with as much realism as possible and as such the film never has a chance to show off visually, although this is to its benefit. The only moment in the film where the visuals shine are in the very opening scene when the residents are all evacuating the apartment they think is about to collapse. Whilst I'm not 100% sure of this, I believe that the entire scene is told in a single shot, but if it isn't, a large portion of it is and it is very impressive, particularly with just how much is going on in the scene and location.
Overall, I was once again very impressed by Asghar Farhadi's latest film, “The Salesman”. While not as complex or as pinpoint as his previous two films, this is still a compelling look at how a wedge can be formed between a married couple after one is the victim of an assault, as well as the differences between how each sex deals with such a crisis. Whilst I wouldn't put in the same class as “A Separation”, “The Past” or “About Elly”, it sits comfortably next to “Fireworks Wednesday”and is a film I still highly recommend.