Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman,” the Academy Award winner for best foreign language film, once again touches on the Iranian filmmaker’s cardinal themes of moral reckoning amid crumbling institutions.
From the outset, Farhadi announces his metaphorical intentions with blunt clarity. While a cosmopolitan husband and wife, Emad and Rana (Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti), rehearse their starring roles in an amateur production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” their apartment building begins to collapse. Relocated to a new dwelling, they discover that its recent occupant entertained a number of male visitors, an unsavory history that haunts Emad and Rana in unexpected and cataclysmic ways.
Farhadi juxtaposes Willy and Linda Loman’s relationship in the play with Emad and Rana’s own domestic psychodrama, which hinges on issues of masculine pride and a faltering sense of purpose. If the conceit feels obvious and strained, it still gives Farhadi and his actors ample room to explore the ambiguities of commitment, ethics and revenge in a society where mistrust in public servants runs deep.
No one dares call the police, even when a heinous crime occurs. The universe of “The Salesman” is one in which the personal and political have merged, not out of idealism or moral duty, but necessity.
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That conundrum comes into play most forcefully in the film’s stunning third act, when Farhadi’s occasionally shaky parallels between art and life are distilled into a brilliantly staged, searingly confrontational chamber piece. That’s when Farhadi’s Hitchcockian knack for psychological suspense kicks in, and the nominal protagonist of “The Salesman” comes into strange and ultimately confounding focus.
Arthur Miller’s play ends with Linda ironically telling her late husband that the Lomans are finally “free and clear” of the mortgage that had weighed the couple down for years. “The Salesman” concludes with another kind of debt being paid. In Farhadi’s habitually unresolved world, however, true freedom is a long way off.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements and a brief bloody image. In Farsi with subtitles. 2:05. Kentucky.