Asghar Farhadi’s drama, which won an Oscar for best foreign-language film, follows a husband and wife in a production of “Death of a Salesman.” Rating: 4 stars out of 4.
In 2012, writer/director Asghar Farhadi delivered the first Iranian film to win an Oscar, the domestic drama “A Separation.” He won again this year for his seventh feature, “The Salesman.”
It is by any measure a great film, a quiet, yet overwhelmingly intense production that forces us to recalibrate our notion of what suspenseful cinema can mean and do. It turns the hero/victim/villain setup of routine mysteries into a nuanced moral dilemma.
Movie Review ★★★★
‘The Salesman,’ with Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti. Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements and a brief bloody image. In Farsi, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema Uptown.
The film’s title refers to the play being staged by its protagonists, a troupe of actors presenting Arthur Miller’s tragic “Death of a Salesman” in Tehran. But as always in Farhadi’s remarkably sophisticated work, there’s much more to be understood. He introduces us to thoroughly defined characters who are not always truthful about their motivations, sometimes because they don’t understand themselves. Like salesmen, they put the best side forward and conceal the flaws.
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The story opens in an apartment building beginning to tremble and shift. An excavator next door has weakened the structure’s foundation, sending the tenants fleeing. The crumbling echoes the issues facing the married couple living there.
Shahab Hosseini’s Emad takes charge in the crisis, leading Taraneh Alidoosti’s Rana to safety and helping their neighbors quickly move down the stairs. Emad’s a fine performer onstage, too, bringing a sincere emotional current to his role as Willy Loman. In his day job as a boys’ high-school drama teacher, he’s admired by every student in his class.
Rana is quieter, withdrawn, playing Willy’s wife in low-key form, while subtly keeping Emad at a distance offstage. They are both good at putting on alternate identities.
When they relocate into a new apartment, the fissures from the first act encounter a new level of stress. The previous tenant has left behind a shady history that soon returns. Rana is knocked unconscious after leaving the apartment door unlocked. She doesn’t describe the assault in detail to the police or her husband. She wants it to be forgotten.
But Emad is unwilling to put the incident to rest. He combs the area for clues about what happened and who was involved. When he encounters a suspect, events take a heartbreaking turn.
Farhadi presents us with three-dimensional chess games that need to be followed on multiple levels. It’s a hard trick for a filmmaker to pull off, but great films rarely succeed without complexity.