A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi, 2016)

Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini in The Salesman
Rana Etesami: Taraneh Alidoosti
Emad Etesami: Shahab Hosseini
Babak: Babak Karimi
The man: Farid Sajadi Hosseini
Sanam: Mina Sadati
Sadra: Sam Valipour
Majid: Mojtaba Pirzadeh
Kati: Maral Bani Adam

Director: Asghar Farhadi
Screenplay: Asghar Farhadi
Cinematography: Hossein Jafarian
Music: Sattar Oraki

Protesting an American policy that refuses to distinguish between artists and terrorists, Asghar Farhadi didn't attend the Academy Awards ceremony that gave his film The Salesman an Oscar for best foreign language film. The irony here is that in many ways The Salesman is as critical of the Islamic Republic of Iran as its director's action was of the United States. On the surface, The Salesman is a well-made domestic drama about the stress put on the marriage of Rana and Emad after Rana is assaulted in their own home. It's also a bit of a whodunit, as Emad tries to uncover the identity of the attacker, as well as a problem drama about the nature of revenge. But context is everything, and the context here is a country that seems to be as unstable as the condemned apartment house that Rana and Emad have to flee at the beginning of the film. Throughout The Salesman, the niggling pressures of a state determined to police the private lives of its citizens keep revealing themselves: The production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman in which Emad and Rana play Willy and Linda Loman is subject to last-minute cuts demanded by the censors. The class Emad teaches is interrupted by a man telling him that the books he has selected have not been approved -- Emad wearily tells him to throw them in the trash. Worst of all, Rana refuses to trust the police to handle her case, knowing that she'd be subjected to interrogation and public exposure worse than the attack itself. We never learn the full details of what happened to her, whether she was sexually assaulted or just subjected to a terrifying visit from a voyeur -- although the latter, especially in a state that prescribes rigorous standards of modesty from women, is an equivalent violation. We get a hint of the tensions and mistrust between the sexes in Iran in a scene in which Emad shares a taxi with one of his male students and a woman, who first accuses him of what we'd call "manspreading," and then asks to change seats with the student. Afterward, when Emad proclaims his innocence, the student tells him that the woman had probably been molested by a man during a cab ride and is oversensitive to any contact. Official standards of behavior have eroded community standards: Although the apartment Rana and Emad have moved into was once occupied by a prostitute, a profession both strictly illegal and widespread in Iran, the neighbors only gossiped about her, never notifying the authorities. Emad's vigilantism when he discovers the identity of Rana's attacker is the product of a system of justice that has broken down. That Rana and Emad are actors is suggestive: In the film's vision of Iran, everyone is playing a part, concealing their real selves. The social and political subtext is what makes The Salesman a more fascinating and important film than its mere plot, well-handled as it is, would suggest.

Watched on Amazon Prime

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