Sunday, July 31, 2016


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.

3.5 Stars.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Arguably the greatest writer/director working in cinema today, Asghar Farhadi started his career with this little seen gem. My first experience with a Farhadi film was back in 2009 when I saw his exceptional film “About Elly” at MIFF. However I was totally blown away by his following film, “A Separation”, which is a total masterpiece and the last film that I have given a perfect five stars to. Since then I have done everything I can to track down and see all of Farhadi's previous films and those he made after “A Separation”; all of them impressed. However his debut film had always alluded me, until just recently. Often considered Farhadi's “worst” film, I was determined to find out whether that meant that “Dancing in the Dust” was still a brilliant film but less polished than his later films, or if it was just an out and out disaster. Below are my thoughts on the film.

After finding out that his wife's mother may be a prostitute, Nazar is forced to divorce the woman he loves because his family fears the shame it will bring on them to be associated with such a woman. Although Nazar is reluctant at the beginning, because he believes just because his mother in law may be bad, it doesn't mean that Rayhaneh (his wife) should be painted with that same brush, he eventually relents due to the never ending pressure put on him to do so. Devastated and still in love with his wife, he is determined to do everything in his power to return his wife's dowry to her, which leads him on a journey that takes him out to the desert where he meets a grumpy snake catcher, who wants nothing to do with the young man. Nazar tries to convince the man to teach him how to catch snakes, in an attempt to make the money he needs, however the man is uninterested in both Nazar nor his company. Though after giving up on Rayhaneh once, he refuses to do so again and is determined to make this opportunity work.

There is going to be no mystery with this review because I am happy to report that this is yet another great film from Asghar Farhadi, proving that as of this writing, he has yet to make a bad film. However, it is true that “Dancing in the Dust” is unlike any of the films he would make after it, but the film-making on display is still of a high quality. The films that Farhadi is famous for play out almost like domestic thrillers while often classified as “just” dramas. Usually there is an element to his dramas that is able to cause suspense within the picture, and little details or spoken words which are deemed unimportant in the moment, later have massive ramifications in the greater whole. What is amazing though is the way Farhadi creates and weaves these elements in such a realistic and natural way, that they always feel organic within the story and never like you are being manipulated, to the point that it sometimes feels like you are witness to events unfolding before your very eyes, like in a documentary. This is how “Dancing in the Dust” is different because this is very obviously a movie you are watching. The artifice of the storytelling and filmmaking in general is not hidden here, in fact it is celebrated, particularly in the film's visual style.

In regards to the visual style, I must admit that I was wrong in my assertion that Farhadi has improved on this as he has become more experienced, because it is very clear with this film that he always has had a keen visual eye, particularly in terms of storytelling, right from his debut its just that his later films, he must have believed they worked better with this style pared back. For mine though, “Dancing in the Dark” is a stunningly beautiful film that is filled to the brim with very artistic shots without losing sight of what is important within the narrative. That said, the visuals definitely drive the story here as opposed to the written word.

The other difference to Farhadi's later work, is the lack of complexity to the story being told here. This is in no way a negative; it is just a much simpler tale, as it is essentially a story about love, or perhaps more accurately, it is a story about two men and what they do for the women they love and then living with the consequences of those actions. Both men find themselves where they are due to actions they performed for the women in their lives which at the time they deemed the right thing to do, only to still be paying for those decisions later down the track. The title of the film itself has to do with this very idea, as early in the film Nazar and Rayhaneh are watching a movie on television where a woman is dancing on glass to save the man she loves. Nazar explains to Rayhaneh that this is what love is, and questions her whether she would dance on glass for him (to which she amusingly replies “Sure, if I was wearing shoes”). All the pain and everything that Nazar goes through in the desert is for Rayhaneh; the desert is his broken glass, thus the very beautiful and poetic title “Dancing in the Dust”, which also alludes to the fact that while a story about love, this also deals with the pain that comes with loving someone. While I continually talk about the fact that the film is about love, it is interesting to note just how little of the films running time Nazar and Rayhaneh's love story occupies. It is only through the opening titles that we are witness to their whole love affair, where we see them meet, fall in love and marry in just a number of shots and when the film starts in earnest, it is when the couple are struggling over whether to get divorced or not. So while the film is definitely about love, “pure” traditional love is hardly represented on screen at all.

In regards to the acting on display here, I thought everyone performed well but I was particularly impressed by the performance of Faramarz Gharibian who plays the grumpy snake catcher. For the majority of the film, his character is silent, this is a damaged man who only talks when necessary, so Gharibian's performance has to be of an internal nature and he does a wonderful job of portraying a broken man, who still has a lot of power within. He has a couple of great moments towards the end of the film when his character has a chance at some sort of redemption, and we get to see a softer, more emotional side to this gruff character. Importantly Gharibian also has great chemistry with his acting partner, Yousef Khodaparast, who plays Nazar. The two characters could not be more opposite with Nazar constantly talking and moving about and much more extroverted, but the two of them bounce off each other beautifully, which at times makes the film, surprisingly, really funny. While I don't think Khodaparast's performance is as quite as nuanced as his counterpart, what makes him so effective is the chemistry between himself and Gharibian in their scenes together. When Khodaparast plays in scenes without him, he never seems as strong. Baran Kosari is also adequate in the small role of Rayhaneh, although she is never really given much to do.

Overall, I was very impressed by Asghar Farhadi's debut film, “Dancing in the Dust”. While it is true that this can be considered his “worst” film, this is a man who produces films at the highest quality possible, so that definition is something of a misnomer because if it had been directed by anybody else, I'm sure it would be considered quite an achievement. This is a different kind of film from Farhadi, as he relies on the power of his visuals as opposed to the written word to tell his story and does so via a number of beautiful and poetic images (I loved the idea of the amputated finger and what it represented in the film in that moment). His use of the desert location is breathtaking and I was also very impressed by his use of music throughout the film, while also surprised by the amount of humour within. So what is left to say except this is another Asghar Farhadi film that I wholeheartedly recommend.

3.5 Stars.