Asghar Farhadi, an Iranian filmmaker, made his first short film at the age of 13, while he attended a youth drama club. He shaped his film-making style gradually while studying Harold Pinter’s plays at the University of Teheran. He then moved on to study stage direction at the Tarbias Modares University, where he wrote for television and also wrote a few radio plays. In 2002, he finally managed to direct his first feature Dancing in the Dusk (2003), which was received positively around the world; the film won the award for Best Actor at the 25th Moscow International Film Festival, and it also received awards for the Best Screenplay and Director at the 48th Asian Pacific Film Festival.
The day when I first found Farhadi’s work gripping was the day when I first saw The Beautiful City (2004) – in it, Farhadi poignantly examines the themes of love, corruption, sacrifice and forgiveness; Beautiful City is a film that will last in your mind for a while. This is why I cannot get enough of Farhadi and his directing style; he crafts one thought-provoking masterpiece after another – including his latest feature, The Salesman.
The Salesman opens with the scene of a married couple Reny (sublime performance by Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini: About Elly and A Separation) who are forced to evacuate from their apartment as it begins to literally fall apart. Emad is a teacher as well as an amateur actor who is performing in a local theatre in an adaptation of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Reny is a housewife and an actress; she performs in the same play as her husband.
After searching for a flat, they finally rent an apartment from their actor friend, Babak (Babak Karimi). Their new pad is spacious and pleasant; the only downside is that the previous tenant was a woman of ill repute. One evening, soon after moving in, Rana – while waiting for her husband – finds herself in a horrible situation; she is attacked and left unconscious in the bathroom – Farhadi does not show who the perpetrator is; instead, he keeps the main character and the audience out of the loop; he does not make it easy for us to understand what is happening. When Emad finds his battered wife in the hospital, the audience knows as much as he does; we follow the narrative with the protagonist and discover the truth as we watch the film. The protagonist asks the same questions and has the same suspicions as the viewers; Emad is in the dark as much as the audience – it is not simple to predict the next scene, which makes The Salesman truly captivating.
When Emad finds out what really happened to his wife, he investigates the situation on his own; in all the chaos, he suspects almost everyone and makes us question different possibilities. Emad does not call the police to report the crime as Rana forbids him from doing so – she does not want to be investigated by the officers (any hints of sexual abuse are cleverly hidden within the narrative).
Rana husband’s actions slowly start to irritate her; the situation that they both have to deal with is affecting their relationship as a married couple. It also affects the team of actors which reflects on their theatre performances. It seems like Emad’s reality is that of the theatrical play itself. Of course, Farhadi is too intelligent a filmmaker to compare the play and Emad’s life in a one-to-one scale; however, in a time when it seems that there is no place for any exaggerated expression of emotion in real life – the theatre stage becomes the space where the married couple expresses their frustrations, helplessness and grief.
In this film, Asghar Farhadi masterfully intertwined the theatre play with Emad’ and Rana’s lives. He is once again interested in the deceptive nature of man – and in what is concealed, hidden and unspoken. As a result, each individual is difficult to read – that is how all the characters are constructed in The Salesman. The filmmaker slowly uncovers the events of the incident and when everything is finally revealed, Farhadi switches to the fifth gear – the narrative gets more intense and it totally glues a viewer into their seat; he gives his story an ethical dimension. But the solved puzzle and a satisfied audience are not enough for the director; he wants his film to be an abreaction for his viewers.
The Salesman is a clever and a very well-crafted film; Farhadi yet again delves into his characters’ minds and meticulously analyzes their motivations. His subtle narrative shines through impeccable performances by Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini. Without a doubt, Asghar Farhadi has a superb ability when it comes to writing scripts; he has a very precise cinematic style which makes him different from Western filmmakers.
The Salesman was selected as the Iranian candidate for the Best Foreign Language Film at the coming 89th Academy Awards; if you get a chance do watch the film; it is a daring and enchanting production!
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © Memento Films Production & Asghar Farhadi Production