THE SALESMAN (Forushande). Starring: Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti. Also, Babak Karimi and Mina Sadati. Directed by Asghar Farhadi. Rated M (Mature themes). 124 min.
This subtitled Iranian drama is directed by Asghar Farhadi who directed the multiple, award-winning movie, "A Separation", in 2011. The movie won major awards at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016, and was awarded Hollywood's 2017 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
It tells the story of two actors, performing in an amateur production in Tehran, who are married to each other, and whose relationship is eroded by their decision to occupy an apartment, inhabited previously by a woman thought to be a prostitute.
The film begins by showing us the preparations taking place for the play. Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini) have the lead roles in Arthur Miller's play, "Death of a Salesman". Emad is performing Willy Loman in Miller's play, and Rana has the role of Loman's wife, Linda.
Rana and Emad decide to rent an apartment in Tehran, close to where they lived before. Emad and Rana have to move, because an earthquake has hit their home which collapsed around themThey are both unaware that their new apartment was rented in the past by a woman, with "lots of acquaintances". They move and settle in. Unexpectedly, a past client of the previous tenant pays a visit while Rana is alone at home. The consequences of his visit establish events that destroy the couple's relationship.
Rana is assaulted while she is in the shower and is knocked unconscious. After the attack, she becomes fearful, and acts nervously and defensively in ways that Emad finds hard to accept. Rana behaves inconsistently toward Emad, and Emad reacts to what has occurred by making things worse. He makes the decision to investigate the attack privately, and his investigation reveals to him who the attacker was. The assailant is not the person one expects, and characteristic of Farhadi's mastery, the problem becomes not the crime that was committed, as much as the knowledge that Emad has acquired through his inquiry into it.
In very clever ways, the film develops the themes of mercy and forgiveness, but, combined with his development of them, Farhadi forces the viewer to confront the emotional complexities of revenge. As the movie comes to its conclusion, the film turns around on itself to re-connect to Miller's Play, "Death of a Salesman". Emad starts to be like Willy Loman, and Miller's dramatic theme is picked up by Emad behaving in a way that lets down the wife he truly loves.
The film reminds one of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, with touches of Claude Chabrol. The film builds up its tension and suspense brilliantly. In almost an awkward, but entirely natural-looking way, the real consequences of what has occurred are revealed in a surprising manner, before the film delivers its stunning final blow. Unexpected twists in a plot linked originally to a crime are used all the time to highlight dramatically the nature of a marital relationship that is breaking down.
The film concerns itself with the decisions made by people, and the consequences of the situations they pursue, which envelop them. It offers dramatic and forceful insights into the motivations and personalities of Emad, and Rana, but also the person who assaulted Rana. And typical of Farhadi's movies, it comments meaningfully on the social and family structure of life in modern Tehran.
This is a clever movie that is directed with brilliance. The film is exceptionally well acted, very well photographed, and supported by an original story-line. It is a movie that richly deserves the multiple awards it has received, and it is also a masterful piece of cinema that is an absolute must-see.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released March 9th., 2017