Reviewed by: Jim O'Neill
The effect of a brutal attack on a woman, and on her husband
marriage relationship under stress
corrosive power of doubt on a marriage
fear of scandal and loss of reptuation
the detrimental effect of revenge on relationships
evil effects of prostitution
trying to save the life of your attacker
life in modern Iran
police absence in this story’s crimes, apparently due to a problematic justice system in the city or country
Taraneh Alidoosti … Rana Etesami
Shahab Hosseini … Emad Etesami
Babak Karimi … Babak
Farid Sajjadi Hosseini … Naser
Mina Sadati … Sanam
Mojtaba Pirzadeh … Majid
Emad Emami … Ali
Sam Valipour … Sadra
Maral Bani Adam … Kati
Shirin Aghakashi … Esmat
Mehdi Koushki … Siavash
Sahra Asadollahe … Mojgan
Ehteram Boroumand … Mrs. Shahnazari
Farhadi Film Production [Iran]
Doha Film Institute
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Asgar Farhadi’s “The Salesman” won the 2017 Oscar® for Best Foreign Language Film. Farhadi did not attend the Academy Award ceremony; instead, he sent a representative to accept the award on his behalf. Although the statement made no mention of government policy in Farhadi’s home country, Iran, where a Web site such as Christian Answers would likely be discouraged or even banned, it did criticize U.S. Policy for its lack of openness.
During the long evening, Farhadi’s words were echoed, but also diluted, by similar statements by an Italian make-up artist, a Mexican actor and an American comic. The members of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences put on a gala evening, and built a Babylonian tower of good-will, inclusiveness, and worldliness that gave the impression that Hollywood actually is a seat of intelligent thought and competent action. They throw a lot of stones, and if audience applause is a gauge of success, they made solid hits on a lot of their targets.
And then they announced the award for the year’s Best Picture.
Fortunately, Mr. Farhadi is an exception to most of the people who took to the stage at this year’s Oscars®. His movies (his earlier film, “A Separation” won an Academy Award in 2012) are much better than his acceptance speeches.
Unlike recent English-language Best Picture winners, such as “Spotlight” (2015) and “Moonlight” (2016) each of which are more academic seminar than artistic cinema, “The Salesman” directs its eye not toward how humanity should live, but how it does live. Farhadi shines a light on human nature, human weakness, and human sin, without pointing fingers or naming names. He seems to understand that souls are not meant to be called out, but are called to be forgiven and to be saved.
Emad Etesami (Shabab Hosseini) is a high school teacher. He and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are forced to move out of their Tehran apartment when its foundation crumbles and the building collapses. They find a new apartment, a seemingly comfortable one whose only drawback is some clutter left behind by a former renter. The prior tenant’s baggage, however, turns out to involve more than some unclaimed hats, bags and shoes.
Before Emad and Rana can unpack, they find themselves caught up in a domestic crime. They are angry and frightened, and unsure about what to do next. Their choices, from not calling the police to tracking clues that lead to obvious danger, are misguided, at best, but those noir-styled missteps allow the film to shift seamlessly from domestic drama to whodunnit to revenge pursuit served ice cold.
Farhadi builds suspense not with threatening teases or sudden surprises, but with subtle changes in the behavior of his characters. The movie may drag in spots, because there are no fast chases, no startling revelations and, most of all, no clear-cut villains, but its grip tightens until it becomes vise-like, and its climax is as shattering as it is unexpected.
My only reservation about the film is the play within a play device that does enrich the story, but also gives some of it away. Emad and Rana are amateur actors whose theater company is staging a production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” The couple play Willy and Linda Loman, a tragic duo, if ever there was one. Watching them act out those doomed characters, one need not make too much of a stretch believing that when the stage lights go down and the makeup comes off, things will not go well.
Otherwise, “The Salesman” is a good suspense yarn and a searing moral allegory that is so expertly crafted as to seem not crafted at all. The performances have the same natural feel; all are spot-on, but some go beyond that and are transformative.
One character is asked why he did something that is obviously wrong. He makes no excuse. His answer reveals how honest and sublime this film is: “I was tempted.”
“The Salesman” looks honestly and humanely at crime, justice and punishment. It is tempting to make one’s own judgment about such matters, but the final say is God’s, not ours. Taking them into our own hands will only bloody those hands, and lead us where it led Willy Loman, and perhaps Emad and Rana, if forgiveness and grace do not intervene.
Violence: Moderate / Profanities: 3 / Obscenities: 5 / Nudity: None / Sex: Moderate—thematic (implied possible sexual assault, adultery, prostitution—but none of these are depicted on-screen).