The Salesman delivers a twisted tale of vengeance
Veteran Iranian director Asghar Farhadi returns this year with “The Salesman,” a nuanced portrayal of one couple’s struggle to come to terms with a brutal assault. Emad (Shahab Hosseini), a high school English teacher, and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) balance rehearsals for their parts as leads in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” with their move into a new apartment. After Rana is violently attacked by a stranger while in the shower, her and Emad’s differing reactions to the incident lead to tension and paranoia.
From the start, Emad is characterized as empathetic and kind-hearted. At the beginning of the film, Emad and Rana are forced to evacuate their old apartment as construction next door causes it to collapse around them. When Emad notices his elderly neighbor begging for help, he risks his life to save her disabled son from the crumbling ruins.
In his classroom, Emad is clearly a favored teacher, joking with his students yet still commanding their respect. At home, he sings love songs to Rana as they put together their new home, and chats with their landlord about someday starting a family. He and Rana are hopeful about their future – when surveying their apartment for the first time, Emad remarks, “For once, it looks like we’re in luck.”
Yet after the assault, Emad and Rana’s relationship becomes strained. Emad’s character takes a dark turn, as he becomes obsessed with taking revenge against Rana’s attacker. Rana, however, refuses to report the attack to the police, and instead focuses on forgetting the incident ever happened. Both are overwhelmed by their attempts to understand this random act of violence, and Emad’s simmering anger clashes with Rana’s fear and anxiety. Through long silences, sharp glances and sudden outbursts, Hosseini and Alidoosti convey the resentfulness that grows between the couple.
Farhadi heightens tensions in the film through skillful camerawork and narrative techniques. At key points in the film, the camera lingers on certain objects – a windowpane in Rana and Emad’s old apartment, as the glass slowly fissures and cracks; the half-open door through which Rana’s attacker enters. The film is also intercut with scenes from the couple’s rehearsals for and performances in “Death of a Salesman,” and the themes and moral quandaries of that play – betrayal, adultery, familial tensions – are subtly mirrored in the movie.
“The Salesman” is slow to grab the attention of its audience, but gradually builds a compelling tale of trauma and revenge. Although the mystery behind Rana’s attacker is eventually resolved, the moral conflicts raised throughout the movie are not. Instead, the audience is left to sort through the thought-provoking questions and complications of the movie on their own. Ultimately, Farhadi deftly weaves together an American classic with his own, wholly Iranian story, creating a complex exploration of humanity.
“The Salesman” opens in theaters on Feb. 3, 2017
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