The Sales­man

THE SALES­MAN, drama, not rated, in Per­sian with sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - — Jonathan Richards

“So at­ten­tion must be paid.” — Arthur Miller’s Death of a Sales­man

The build­ing is col­laps­ing. As­ghar Farhadi, the Ira­nian di­rec­tor who vaulted to in­ter­na­tional promi­nence with his 2011 Os­car-win­ning A Sep­a­ra­tion, opens his new movie with an in-your-face sym­bol for mod­ern Iran. Emad (Sha­hab Hos­seini) and his wife, Rana (Taraneh Ali­doosti), are rousted from their Tehran apart­ment by the pan­icky an­nounce­ment that the build­ing is tee­ter­ing and about to fall.

Emad is a lik­able guy. He teaches lit­er­a­ture in high school, and has an easy, ban­ter­ing rap­port with his stu­dents. He and Rana are also ac­tors, ap­pear­ing to­gether as Willy and Linda Lo­man in a small pro­duc­tion of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Sales­man. His stu­dents have never heard of the play, and its Tehran pro­duc­tion is sad­dled with cul­tural and cen­sor­ship dif­fi­cul­ties — the hooker in Willy’s ho­tel room, de­scribed in the di­a­logue as prac­ti­cally naked, is fully dressed in a hat and rain­coat, which re­duces the ac­tor play­ing Biff to help­less laugh­ter.

An­other mem­ber of the com­pany, Babak (Babak Karimi), of­fers his tem­po­rar­ily home­less col­leagues an apart­ment in a build­ing he owns. It’s va­cant be­cause he had to evict the pre­vi­ous ten­ant, de­scribed eu­phemisti­cally as “a woman of many ac­quain­tances,” when the neigh­bors ob­jected to her line of work. (They nod with ap­proval when Babak de­scribes his new ten­ants as work­ing “in cul­ture.”) The woman has left be­hind her pos­ses­sions in a locked room, promis­ing to re­turn “soon” to clear them out when she finds a new place. This is an ir­ri­tant to Emad and es­pe­cially to Rana, and it’s also, like so much in this movie, freighted with other mean­ings.

But those hid­den mean­ings don’t get in the way of a plot that car­ries us along with the mo­men­tum of a low-key thriller. The turn­ing point comes when Rana is at­tacked by an in­truder in the shower of their new apart­ment. From here, Farhadi tracks the psy­cho­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion of his two pro­tag­o­nists. Rana be­comes with­drawn, para­noid, and hos­tile. Re­fus­ing to re­port the in­ci­dent to the po­lice, she de­mands that Emad do some­thing about it. Emad, pur­su­ing clues left be­hind by the at­tacker, grows in­creas­ingly bent on re­venge, a re­venge that seems more rooted in the in­sult to his man­hood than in his wife’s trauma. Like Willy Lo­man, he is a man of hon­or­able but lim­ited qual­i­ties who al­lows him­self to be warped by cir­cum­stances.

The films of As­ghar Farhadi pro­vide a pen­e­trat­ing and in­valu­able insight into the hu­man­ity and psychology of con­tem­po­rary Iran. The Sales­man has been nom­i­nated for an Acad­emy Award in the Best For­eign Lan­guage Film cat­e­gory. Farhadi said he will not be at­tend­ing the Feb. 26 Os­car cer­e­monies. He has been de­nied en­try to this coun­try un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s con­tro­ver­sial ban on ci­ti­zens of se­lected Mus­lim coun­tries, in­clud­ing Iran. At­ten­tion must be paid.

Vic­tim of cir­cum­stance: Sha­hab Hos­seini

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