Movie Review: ‘The Salesman’

John Thomas

Large fissures appear on the walls, the windows are beginning to crack, shouts of “evacuate, evacuate” are heard as the tenants of a building in Iran scurry about collecting personal belongings. The husband Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) glance out the window and see the cause of their crumbling building – a construction backhoe digging the foundation of a new building next door.

Amidst the madness and screams for help, Emad rushes for the stairs and safety with Rana close behind, carrying a handicapped man on his back and suitcases in his hands.

The couple are in the midst of rehearsing for a production of Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman.” Their unsafe apartment building forces them to abandon their home for another. One of the cast members, Babak (Babak Karimi) offers them the use of one of his recently vacated apartments. The couple accepts the offer and begin the cleaning up their new home. Once settled in, they resume rehearsals of the play – Emad plays the part of the salesman and Rana his wife. 

Life and rehearsals continue normally for the couple until one night Emad returns home to be confronted with an event of catastrophic proportions. There is blood on the stairs, a pool of it on the bathroom floor, and no Rana. She has been taken to hospital by her neighbors who had heard her screaming for help. Her assailant left a significant clue behind – his pick-up truck.

Propriety prevents any discussion of “the event,” even between husband and wife, so Emad is on his own to discover the identity of the person who had been driving the vehicle the night of the attack.

His discoveries led him to believe the former tenant of his new home was a prostitute and the attacker a former client. He is finally able to obtain a confession from the man who abused his wife, but only after much strain, pain and anguish for everyone involved in the situation.  

Government censorship during the making of this film limited Asghar Farhadi (director/screenwriter) to remain within the confines of acceptability. Apparently words such as “prostitute” could not be used, and the profession only alluded to, “a woman with many male friends who visit her for brief periods of time at all hours of the day and night” was one result of these restrictions.

These limitations, however, did not inhibit the director from creating an excellent film – perhaps they drove him to create an even better one. Bravo to Asghar Farhadi and Shahab Hosseini for receiving Best Screenplay and Best Actor awards at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. The entire cast should be congratulated for their contributions to this film, which won the Best Foreign Language Film award at the 2017 Academy Awards celebration.


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