With Iran often in the headlines these days, it’s an especially opportune time for “The Salesman,” the latest film from Iran’s most well-known director, Asghar Farhadi. Farhadi recently made news when he said that he would not attend last month’s Academy Awards in light of President Donald Trump’s executive order regarding immigration and travel, though “The Salesman” was nominated in the foreign-language-film category.
But those unfamiliar with Farhadi’s work shouldn’t get the wrong idea. His films, such as “About Elly” (2009) and the Oscar-winning “A Separation” (2011), don’t deal explicitly with politics or Iran’s troubled relations with the U.S. Instead, he turns his focus on middle-class and lower middle-class Iranians and their relationships with each other, lending those outside Iran a glimpse beyond the cable-TV news bulletins into a fascinating society trapped between a conservative Islamic hierarchy/bureaucracy and Western sensibilities.
In “The Salesman,” Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are married actors involved in a production of “The Death of a Salesman,” Arthur Miller’s classic American play about the American Dream. But when we meet them, it’s not onstage, but as they’re escaping their apparently shabbily constructed apartment building collapsing around them.
With their home uninhabitable, a fellow cast member says he knows of an apartment they can rent. The place seems perfect — except that the previous tenant left behind much of her stuff. If Emad and Rana could peer into the future, they would take that as a sign that maybe they should keep looking, but beggars — and actors — can’t be choosers, so they move in.
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As the situation and the mystery involving the woman who used to live there becomes increasingly complicated, something happens that puts a stress fracture into their marriage. The fallout from this gives “The Salesman” its absorbing narrative drive.
Farhadi, who wrote the script, excels at digging into the sinew and soul of relationships made all the more difficult by the heavy hand of an often-smothering society.
Hosseini and Alidoosti are excellent as they convey their characters’ weariness with a life of disappointment.
“The Salesman” isn’t as impressive as “A Separation,” but it’s a powerful expression of lives, and dreams, interrupted.
☆☆☆ 1/2 out of 5
Cast: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi.
Director: Asghar Farhadi.
Running time: 2:05.
Rated: PG-13, for mature thematic elements and a brief bloody image.
Note: In Farsi, with English subtitles.