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Film review: The Salesman – an Iranian marriage falters in Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar winner

A riveting drama that traces an Iranian man’s search for his wife’s attacker, dealing with the country’s patriarchal society, male pride and ideas of honour

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 April, 2017, 2:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 April, 2017, 2:02pm

4/5 stars

An Iranian man’s convoluted attempt to track down his wife’s assailant morphs into an unexpected struggle to find his own moral centre in this riveting human drama, writer-director Asghar Farhadi’s second foreign-language Oscar winner – after A Separation , in 2012, became the first film from Iran to receive that award.

Shortly after theatre actor couple Emad and Rana (Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti, stars of Farhadi’s 2009 hit About Elly) move out of their structurally unsound Tehran apartment building, their marriage begins to show cracks also when Rana accidentally buzzes in a stranger at their new place, and suffers an unspecified assault as a result.

While his shaken wife recovers from a head wound, neither recalling details of the attack nor showing any incentive to involve the police, Emad, who is a teacher by day, learns that the flat was last occupied by a prostitute and her child. A smartphone and a pickup truck left behind by the intruder offer extra clues for Emad’s investigation.

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Although it wouldn’t be wrong to say that The Salesman smacks of indiscreet symbolism – what with Emad and Rana playing Willy and Linda Loman in a stage production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, just as their relationship is crumbling outside – there are engrossing conflicts to be found in these characters’ motives.

What could have been a straightforward case of vengeance is complicated by the patriarchal values of modern Iran, which seem more ready to shame the female victim than bring justice. Apart from keeping Rana silent, they also lend a twisted subtext to Emad’s revenge, which hinges as much on his male pride as it does the culprit’s honour.

Asghar Farhadi explores big themes in The Salesman: dignity, empathy, humiliation

As sympathy shifts among characters in the transfixing final act, you understand how Farhadi won the best screenplay award at both Cannes and the recent Asian Film Awards. The Salesman is a meticulously plotted moral puzzle that, once again, shows how great art can transcend the deeply restrained culture it springs from.

The Salesman opens on April 27

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