The Salesman Forushande (in Finland Premiere 24.3.2017)
Forced to leave their apartment due to a dangerous construction project in a neighboring building, a young Iranian couple moves to the center of Tehran where they become embroiled in a life-altering situation involving the previous tenant. Directed by Asghar Farhadi, who also helmed the Oscar-winning feature A Separation.
Returning to film in his native Iran after the French interlude of The Past, Asghar Farhadi continues his exploration of the dark side of the soul, using a traumatic assault to trigger a young husband’s uncontrollable thirst for revenge. Lacking the astounding social complexity of his Academy Award-winning drama A Separation, the gears in The Salesman are not so hidden and a sense of contrived drama leads to some tedious sections. But all is forgiven when the final punches are delivered in a knock-out finale that leaves the viewer tense and breathless.
At this point there’s not much doubt that Farhadi’s work has revolutionized new Iranian cinema, pulling it out of the much-beaten path of realism and self-reflection pioneered by directors like Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf and onto a new, highly dramatized and theatrical road. The Salesman takes this tendency to its limits, even incorporating a theater play into its story of hurt pride and revenge.
Though once again, the social divisions in modern Iran play a crucial part in the drama and its repercussions on the characters’ lives, they aren’t as compelling as the strong upstairs-downstairs social dynamic between masters and servants in A Separation and the director’s earlier Fireworks Wednesday. What’s most at stake here are the psychological weakness and moral vacancy of the main characters, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), who are working actors and part of Tehran’s cultural aristocracy.
The film opens on their rehearsal of Arthur Miller’s 1949 Pulitzer-winning play Death of a Salesman, with Emad playing Willy Loman and Rana his wife Linda. It’s amusing, but not much more, to see such an all-American classic adapted into Farsi and performed in Iran, where such unexpected difficulties arise as having the sexy Miss Francis appear completely covered up when the dialogue indicates she’s hardly dressed. There’s also mention of the censors coming over to adjust parts of the play. Yet it is eventually performed under a big neon sign advertising gambling and booze, to a rapt audience.