THE SALESMAN, drama, not rated, in Persian with subtitles, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3.5 chiles
“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 Rana becomes withdrawn, paranoid, and hostile.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