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Film review: THE SALESMAN, from ‘Built For Speed’

Iranian director Ashgar Farhadi’s The Salesman recently won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Farhadi caused the evening’s second most controversial moment when he refused to appear because of his disapproval of the US government’s travel ban on citizens from selected countries. Instead he had an Iranian-American engineer Anousheh Ansari read a powerful statement about the dangers of divisiveness. It was fitting not only for its contemporary political relevance but also because The Salesman, like Farhadi’s much lauded 2011 film A Separation and his last film The Past, explores the way insidious growing divisions tear relationships apart.

In The Salesman Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti play a young couple – high school literature teacher Emad and his wife Rana – who have recently moved into a new apartment in Tehran. Their stable lives are thrown into disarray when Rana is assaulted by an unknown man who comes to visit the sex worker who previously lived in the flat. While Rana struggles with post-traumatic stress, Emad becomes increasingly obsessed with finding the culprit and exacting revenge. With Emad preferring alpha male anger to empathy his attitude begins to poison his relationship with Rana. Providing a backdrop to this fracturing relationship is a troubled local production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in which Emad and Rana star.

Without being mechanical, Farhadi’s direction in The Salesman is typically meticulous, his compositions crisp and his dialogue economical. He establishes a low-key, naturalistic tone that allows us to easily enter Emad and Rana’s world.

As he often does Farhadi draws the drama as much from the personalities of his characters as the events in which their embroiled. Consequently, much of the film is built on intimate, uneasy and at times threatening exchanges between these people.  This approach benefits from the superb individual performances and the way in which the characters relate to each other organically. Shahab Hosseini in particular is excellent as he depicts how a man of learning can be overwhelmed by anger, wounded pride and an obsessive desire for revenge.

Although Farhadi focuses on character, he also touches on compelling themes of failed communication and the roles of and expectations placed on of men and women in contemporary Iran. He also subtly creates a world of fear and paranoia about prying neighbours and unsympathetic authorities that reflects the precariousness of life under the current regime; a theme for which he has apparently earned conservative criticism.

This is a slow-moving film and those who are normally seduced by action and melodrama may be left underwhelmed but as with Farhadi’s other films the pleasure is in the subtle social critique and the examination of human frailty.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Drama/ Foreign language.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Ashgar Farhadi.

Release date: 9th Mar 2017.

Running time: 125 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show

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