After having just moved into their new home Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), a couple of fellow actors find themselves in a difficult home life situation after a violation of their home. As they go through the performances at the local theatre of Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ their relationship takes a left turn from which it might not ever go back.
I tried to keep the synopsis as vague as possible so not to spoil the film, since, as in most of Farhadi’s films, the inciting incident comes in later in the film and the drama ultimately does not develop until the third act, something that this director likes to do and at which he excels, always giving priority to the space in which characters develop and live their everyday lives. And those are exactly the reasons why “The Salesman” is a fantastically subtle and morally complex revenge tale masked as a home drama.
It is no coincidence that Shahab Hosseini won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival if there is one reason why this film succeeds it is him. This performance is raw and authentic in its own unique way, he manages to guide us through every one of the stages of degradation his character goes through and he manages to do so without us noticing. On a surface level, the character arch he goes through would be hard to believe, there are some changes that wouldn’t appear natural when spelt out.
Certainly, Farhadi deserves to share some of the credit for the performance too, for many reasons. Firstly, just as in all of his film, the performances across the board are just flawless, he directs actors to perfection and he doesn’t even give you a chance to realise this. The way in which he uniquely manages to capture everyday life is profoundly stunning. From the camera-work to every detail of the blocking of actors right down to every word they say, the fabric of ordinariness he succeeds in putting on screen is flawless.
Then, when it comes to building the drama, Farhadi is just as masterful. The evolution of it is natural and doesn’t ever feel forced upon the characters, the parallels traced with theatre might be a little too on the nose, but they are stunningly relevant and used to an incredible cinematic effect. He manages to build and build the drama and make it culminate in a riveting finale where all of the themes and the moral questions the film asks flow out naturally from it and leave you hanging at just the right moment. He also manages to build a complex web of visual cues and use them effectively to complement the characters and the story, once again here the visual parallels with the theatre are a joy to see unfold.
Drama, Thriller | Iran, 2016 | 12 | 29th May 2017 (UK) | Curzon Artificial Eye Film | Dir. Asghar Farhadi| Tareneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi | Buy:The Salesman [Blu-ray]