Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Movie Review: The Salesman

The Salesman
Directed by: Asghar Farhadi.   
Written by: Asghar Farhadi.
Starring: Taraneh Alidoosti (Rana Etesami), Shahab Hosseini (Emad Etesami), Babak Karimi (Babak), Mina Sadati (Sanam), Farid Sajjadi Hosseini (Naser), Mojtaba Pirzadeh (Majid), Emad Emami (Ali), Maral Bani Adam (Kati), Mehdi Koushki (Siavash), Sam Valipour (Sadra). 

 Iranian director Asghar Farhadi makes tricky movies in which our sympathies shift throughout, often in very unexpected ways, as situations that at first seem so simple, become massively complex. His masterpiece is the Oscar winning A Separation (2011), in which one decision has many consequences for all involved. His latest film, The Salesman, does something similar – although I think Farhadi is also trying to do something more this time around (I know many people loved the film he made in between A Separation and The Salesman – the French co-production, The Past, but I thought it wasn’t a particularly good retread of what he had already done). This film isn’t just a moral question, where our sympathies shift as we learn more information – but it is also about the different roles we all play in our lives – most of those roles self-imposed. I don’t think Farhadi is quite able to bring everything together in the way he attempts – but he comes close, and you have to admire the attempt.
The film focuses on the a married couple – Emad (Shahab Hosseini – who won the Best Actor Prize at Cannes for this role) and Rana (Tarraneh Alidoosti – who was excellent as the missing title character of Farhadi’s 2009 film About Elly). They are actors – about to embark on a local production of Death as a Salesman – playing Willy and Linda Loman when an earthquake rattles their apartment building, and forces them to move out on short notice. A friend in the theater company Babak (Babak Karimi) – is a building manager, and has just had an apartment open up – and the couple move in. Then one night, while she is alone Rana buzzes in a visitor – who she thinks is Emad - and heads to the bathroom – where she ends up being attacked. She is left bloody, but generally okay. The rest of the movie involves Emad trying to track down the man who committed the crime – Rana doesn’t want to go the police, but Emad does have the man’s truck and keys and cell phone – which he left behind in his hurry to escape. He also starts to learn a little about the former tenant – who the neighbors refer to as “promiscuous” – but it’s easy to tell they mean she was a prostitute.
The Salesman is an interesting movie from beginning to end – and it certainly does ask some tough questions. Emad is at the heart of nearly every scene – we see him trying to investigate the crime, as well as at his teaching job, on stage playing Loman, and trying to deal with his traumatized wife. His desire to find his wife’s attacker is genuine – but you also get the impression that he’s doing it in part because he feels that he is “supposed to” – that he feels that he should be the one to avenge his wife. This becomes even more pronounced in the film’s final act – when he finally gets to confront the attacker, in an intense sequence of events, where Farhadi excels, once again, at making our sympathies shift. Emad does seem overly concerned with what the neighbors think- and appearing strong from them. He is playing a role in these scenes as much as he is when he is onstage – on in front of his classroom, or even when he’s trying to comfort his wife – and it eventually exhausts him.
I wish some of the complexity had extended to some of the other characters – in particular Rana. I think Alidoosti’s portrait of a woman dealing with PTSD after her attack is excellent, yet in the third act, her actions don’t entirely seem genuine. I also wish that the film had done a better job of tying together Death of a Salesman to the action of the rest of the movie – it doesn’t have to be in an obvious sort of way (like in George Cukor’s A Double Life from 1947, where an actor – Ronald Colman in an Oscar winning role – playing Othello becomes a jealous monster), but it almost seems like the point Farhadi is making here could be made with any play (I have heard some compare the attacker to Willy Loman – which, I guess, I could see – but it’s a stretch). Also I do think Farhadi needed to do a better job with some of the gender dynamics in the film – which are fairly retrograde - the prostitute, who we never even see, is basically blamed for everything, by everyone in the film, with no hint of any critique of it, as well as the fact that Emad is playing out a very old fashioned view of masculinity, in which the wife being attacked is almost viewed as an attack on the husband more than on his wife.
Still, while these are issues I had with the movie – and they keep it from being as great as A Separation (or About Elly), doesn’t completely derail the film either. Farhadi remains one of the most interesting writer/directors around, making morally complex film that challenge the audience to see things in multiple ways. The Salesman isn’t his best work – but even lesser Farhadi is well worth seeing.

No comments:

Post a Comment