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The Salesman

The Foreign Oscar winning Iranian film is a multilayered and complex analysis of human frailties and social collapse, using Tehran as a backdrop and an American play as the paintbrush

Asghar Farhadi did it again. For the second time, he was awarded Best Foreign Language Picture by the Academy. The Salesman has many similarities with his previous film A Separation (2011), but he didn’t play safe. It was indeed a political award in North-American territory, as the favourite film to win the prize was Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016 – click here in order to read our review). Filmmaker Farhadi opted out of Oscar ceremony after President Donald Trump imposed a travel ban to some countries, including Iran. The Iranian artist said: “To humiliate one nation with the pretext of guarding the security of another is not a new phenomenon in history and has always laid the groundwork for the creation of future divide and enmity.”

The most curious aspect of The Salesman is that the director uses a classic play by the American playwright Arthur Miller, ‘Death of a Salesman’ (1949), to reveal the frailties of his own society. The amateur actors Emad (Shahab Hosseini, Best Actor Winner at Cannes 2016) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are preparing for the opening night of their production of the aforementioned play. Some dangerous work on a neighbouring building forces the couple to leave their home and move into a new flat. In the new house, a violent assault involving a mistaken identity befalls the couple. They then begin to experience a string of turbulent events.

The hint that something is about to collapse is clear and it is repeated extensively. The structure of the building is falling. Plus the play within the film is, in essence, the collapse of the American Dream. The camerawork is from the perspective of various characters, and it’s difficult to determine who to follow and to relate to. It also moves in and out the flat, up and down, and the stairs are where most crucial moment takes place. Stairs represent transition, change and personal growth. When we use them, we make direct contact with our feet. And in this case, it exposes that it is hard to keep your feet on the ground when there is a price to pay for not being vigilant enough.

Best Foreign Language Film The Salesman Asghar Farhadi (Iran) is accepted by a designated woman reading Farhadi's statement. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
The Salesman wins the Foreign Picture Oscar but the director nowhere to be seen in order to pick up his prize

A feeling of disorientation brews, as the characters transfer their personal experience to the theatre stage. Lines can be changed; actors can be replaced; and relatives and children are always in the backstage. The most crucial aggression is not exposed. Violence is not depicted and banalised. The details of the assault remain a mystery.

The Salesman is a devastating evidence that women in Iran cannot deal with some issues in public. Sometimes they cannot even tell their husbands, as judgement and misunderstanding will follow the confession. Likewise A Separation, honour and forgiveness are intrinsically related and connected to theological praxis. Somehow, though it should be kept hidden, tragic events are spread to friends and relatives. What other people think determines the fate of those characters. And sacrifice in the name of the family is almost always a sacred law.

Arthur Miller declared in an interview in 1998: “the Salesman’s ability to somehow transcend the moment that it was written in has contributed to its long-lasting success, but that’s really an enigma to start with. You see, that play was written in 1948, when we were starting the biggest boom in the history of the United States. However, a good part of the population, including me and President Truman, were prepared for another depression.” The award of The Salesman had the effect of an earthquake triggered by San Andreas Fault on Los Angeles. Once nature begins to unleash strange forces, it could continue to do so for a long time. The same applies to cinema.

You can watch The Salesman in the UK from March 17th, and it will be available on Curzon Home. Check out the film trailer below:

By Maysa Monção - 14-03-2017

Maysa Monção is a Brazilian writer, teacher, translator, editor and art performer who currently lives in London. She has a Masters Degree in Film Studies from Tor Vergata University in Rome, Italy, ...

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