The Salesman

 

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Asghar Farhadi's latest Iranian tale seeks enrichment through links with a famous American play.

 
Salesman, The

 

Taken on its own the title of this latest film from the distinguished Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi need not be referential. However, a brilliant pre-credit sequence not only portrays the evacuation of a tenement block in a way that could carry an extra symbolical meaning but shows us a set being rigged up for a play. It is then quickly established that the film's central characters, Emad and Rana Etesami, a teacher and his wife, are taking the roles of Willy and Linda Loman in an amateur production of Arthur Miller's celebrated play Death of a Salesman. This is stressed to such an extent that we feel invited to look for some connection between Miller's characters and the contemporary Iranians portrayed here. However, if the natural link would seem to be to associate Emad with his role of Willy, a quite different parallel emerges in the film's later stages.

 

These references might have added richness to Farhadi's Iranian tale, but I am not sure that they do. The story that he tells is psychologically acute as we see how the life of the Etesamis is torn apart by an unexpected incident that occurs when, following their enforced departure from their old apartment, they take over premises offered by one of the company putting on the play. At its best this extremely well acted film (it has Shabab Hosseini, Best Actor at Cannes, playing Emad and Taraneh Alidoosti as Rana) offers a compelling sense of actuality and we follow the narrative as it concentrates first on Rana's reaction to the incident and then to Emad's. In an echo of a crucial moment in Farhadi's A Separation, the event itself is bypassed, leaving the audience to speculate on the details. Equally characteristic of Farhadi's work is the fact that subsidiary characters are not always precisely identified, but most of them if not neighbours are involved in the staging of the play so this is not problematic.

 

The Salesman is certainly worth seeing, but at times the Miller references seem forced and one is distracted by trying to find any equivalent to the crucial theme of Death of a Salesman, namely the respect deserved by a man who is a flawed human being and a failure but who meant well ("Nobody dast blame this man. Attention must be paid" as the text famously has it). Near the close, when forgiveness is offered, The Salesman goes somewhat in that direction, but then it moves on. Ultimately, for all the quality work on display here, one is left with the sense that Farhadi's aims are too vague, too diffuse, to leave one feeling fully satisfied. But you should see the film and form your own judgment.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Shabab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti, Babak Karimi, Farid Sajjadi Hosseini, Mina Sadati, Mehdi  Koushki, Maral Bani Adam.

 

Dir Asghar Farhadi, Pro Alexandre Mallet-Guy and Asghar Farhadi, Screenplay Asghar Farhadi, Ph Hossein Jafarian, Art Dir Keyvan Moghadam, Ed Hayedeh Safiyari, Music Satar Oraki, Costumes Sara Samiee.

 

Memento Films/Asghar Farhadi Productions/Arte France Cinéma-Curzon Artificial Eye.
123 mins. France/Iran/Qatar. 2016. Rel: 17 March 2017. Cert. 12A.