The Salesman is another signifier of the kind of quality to expect from Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi. Sure, many of his films are bound to draw comparison to his acclaimed 2011 masterwork, the Oscar-winning A Separation, but having seen several of Farhadi’s films at this point, it is clear the man knows his way around gripping drama. Working to underplay his skill as a director, his films are not so much about clever cinematic construction (although there’s an argument to make there), as they are a careful examination of pure human response to what regular life brings upon people. Sometimes it can be unfair, sometimes different, but Farhadi’s The Salesman is just another look at what can come from circumstance.
Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti stars as Emad and Rana, husband and wife who are currently playing the lead roles in a new rendition of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”. The film’s opening shows an event that leads to the couple in search of a new apartment. A friend informs them of a space, which Emad and Rana move into. Not before long, an event occurs, which causes harm to Rana, leaving a mystery open to who was involved. Emad finds frustration in understanding what Rana is going through and figuring out how to rectify the situation.
While purposely vague, the story, while not universal, does unfold in the way life can. Obviously the circumstances are heightened, given the nature of the crime Rana suffers and the connection of “Death of a Salesman” to this story, but the ensuing drama never feels manufactured. Conversations may have a sense of rhythm that stems from a screenwriter choosing not to capture the way humans can stammer while speaking more intensely or otherwise, but that’s a stylistic flourish in most films. The characters here feel real, which is what can be generally said about Farhadi’s work. It’s an aspect that makes me anticipate what he has to offer.
Each year offers a variety of films in different genres. If Farhadi continues to tackle human drama, I’d be all for it, as he continually finds a way to make various human dilemmas compelling to watch. The Salesman may be more overtly dramatic because of a particular crime, but the buildup and response, again, seems natural. The actors do what is required of them with great results. Hosseini, in particular, is quite strong. He lives up the Best Actor award he received from the Cannes Film Festival. It is the kind of performance that exhibits a level of range stretching from visible introspection to lashing out in moments of panic.
Similarly, Alidoosti’s role provides Farhadi the opportunity to detail how impactful a situation like this can be on a woman, without feeling the need to have his voice serve as the one who knows the most. It also goes a long way into seeing this film not go out of its way to apply the situation specifically to Iranian culture. A major plot point in A Separation, for example, relies on how a character’s religion specifically applies to why things happen a certain way. Here, Farhadi is more interested in letting Alidoosti’s performance spell out what is important, beyond customs and setting.
If anything, the only aspect that comes into question is a level of convenience regarding how the film resolves the main issue and the amount of drama it chooses to stack on top of itself. Yes, sometimes when it rains, it pours, but when a screenwriter has the choice to go to certain levels, I have to wonder if more restraint could have benefited the film. Now I must say the film’s connection to “Death of a Salesman” may leave more of an impact for those with a stronger familiarity, but as far as The Salesman goes, I can only to speak to what Farhadi’s technique has to offer.
As noted earlier, saying the film is competently made on a cinematic level is practically discrediting the work done to bring this film together. There is a difference between showy camera work and knowing what is effective from a directorial standpoint. Applying that to The Salesman, one must note how careful the shot construction is to maximize a level of tension, as we see these various characters interact in a given scene. Farhadi may not be exploring much new territory in terms of his filmmaking style, but the tools he continues to use certainly does little to disservice him.
The Salesman is another success for Farhadi. The director’s naturalistic style allows him to stand high among modern filmmakers that leave an impact through dramatic writing in low stakes situations. Those low stakes are of course intensely personal for those directly involved and it is how the weight of these circumstances play out for these individuals that makes his films so compelling. Not a bad place to be for a filmmaker specializing in a deliberately paced film that focuses on dialogue and attitude changes. Whether Farhadi takes on new challenges or not, his work continues to be riveting.