“THE SALESMAN”— In Tehran

“The Salesman” (“Forushande”)

In Tehran

Amos Lassen

In an apartment in a Tehran building, Emad Etesami (Shahab Hosseini) is alerted to danger by the commotion of evacuation.  He gets his wife, Rana  (Taraneh Alidoosti) out before the structure fails.  The stage manager of the play they are currently rehearsing, Babak (Babak Karimi) shows them a vacated apartment, but the previous tenant has not yet fully moved out and whatever happened in her past has violent and disturbing ramifications for the Etesamis.

“The Salesman” is Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi’s analysis of a relationship that plays off of Arthur Miller’s “The Death of a Salesman”, the very play that the Etesamis’ Iranian troupe is mounting.  The strain on their marriage is the focus of the film. After Emad goes out to the store, Rana hears the buzzer and assumes that it is Emad it is so she opens the door before getting into the shower.  But when Emad comes home later, he follows the blood on the stairs. As Emad goes up the stairs, he finds himself following a trail of blood that leads into his new bathroom.  He learns that neighbors have taken his wife to the hospital. The upstairs tenant conjectures that Rana was attacked by a ‘client’ of the former tenant who had ‘many male visitors.’  Emad questions Rana, demanding to know why she let a stranger into their apartment.  She explains and also claims that she did not see the man’s face.  When they get back to their apartment, Rana does not feel safe but she safe refuses to go to the police, as, in Iran, that would mean that she is publicly admitting her shame.  Emad finds a cell phone, cash and a set of keys which he traces to a pickup truck left on their street.

Rana insists on returning to evening rehearsals, but breaks down.  Sanam (Mina Sadati), another cast member asks if her young son Sadra (Sam Valipour) can go home with Rana.  At first, Sadra’s presence seems to ease tensions since the Etesamis have been thinking about starting a family, but when Rana tells Emad she paid for their meal with money from a wad of cash she found in a drawer, Emad becomes angered and he throws the food away. Then the pickup truck disappears and Emad begins searching for its owner.

The focus of the film is on a couple who dance around a stressful event without ever verbalizing their innermost thoughts. , beautifully realized in Farhadi’s closing shot.  Hosseini wonderfully shows Emad’s damaged male pride with his wife’s bruised face constantly reminding him of what has happened. . As Rana retreats into a nervous shell and as she becomes quieter, Emad becomes louder. growing quieter as Hosseini grows louder.  It seems that her unwillingness to talk is because of the shame she feels but we later see that there is something else that contributes to this.

 

The film also looks at the social aspects of class, patriarchy and honor. Director Farhadi’s uses the structural breakdown of the Etesamis’ apartment as a metaphor that their new environment never completely their own. However, the main characters fail to talk about their inner feelings and there is no real catharsis. 

Farhadi embraces the traditions of classic American theater and merges them with his mode of Iranian thriller-procedural. A prologue subconsciously prepares us for the eventual shift between cinema vérité and chamber-drama theatricality. It begins with people navigating a small, geometrically elaborate setting, an apartment complex, and they rush to get out before it collapses. —scrambling to exit it before it collapses. Amid this we meet Emad and, Rana as they help their neighbors out of the building that’s cracking along the walls and seams as if to show that there are more faultlines coming.

 

The first half of the film alternates between Emad and Rana’s rehearsals for a production of “Death of a Salesman” with their efforts to find and move into a new apartment. Soon after the couple moves into their new apartment, a man walks in on Rana while she’s showering, either assaulting her or causing her to fall in the bathroom and suffer a head injury. Rana remembers little of the incident and Emad assumes that the interloper was looking for the past tenant, and presses Babak for answers.

At the beginning of the movie it is easy to interpret the lack of any real intimacy and or signs of affection between Emad and Rana as a cultural thing.  Then as the tense drama unfolds after the attack as we see the actions of a good husband wanting to be his wife’s protector. in reality Rana’s disdain for Emad turns into him actually wanting to harm her attacker as way of  exacting revenge for her rejection of him.   

There is no hint as to how the drama will play out. This is a powerful character-driven drama that confirms the director’s well-deserved reputation at Iran’s best contemporary filmmaker.

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