Returning to his homeland for The Salesman, Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past) again concocts a heady mix of dark Western tragedy—via echoes of a classic American drama here—and potent Persian culture. Once more, what could be Iranian melodrama becomes, instead, people caught up in near-desperate negotiations of an honour-and-shame society. Here, though, Farhadi walks a sharp line between anticipation and suspense in so many scenes that he knife-edges an apparent domestic drama into a story that’s almost psychological-thriller teetering towards horror … but certainly all about violation, obsession, and loss.
Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and her husband Emad (Shahab Hosseini), a teacher, are preparing for their main roles in a production of Death of a Salesman. After their building is condemned, the couple move into an apartment whose previous female tenant led a “wild life.” One night, as she’s about to take a shower, Rana buzzes someone into the building whom she assumes is Emad …
From the start, revealing the design for this Tehran production of Arthur Miller’s play, the stage is set. A moment of misunderstanding tailspins into humiliations, cover-ups, and rancour, then nosedives into a vengeful fixation. In the opening sequence, moving us through a ruined building, we gradually get a sense of how dire the situation is, and that creeping dread soon returns, chilling through the main action. A classroom confrontation and a dinner scene also fingertip-turn the dial, nudging the dramatic volume up and up ever so slightly. As Emad fumes, the new apartment remains haunted by the “promiscuous” tenant, all the while Rana slowly becomes a shade of her former self.
Perhaps Rana slips a little too far away—her cold stare at her husband in the dressing room thrills with a sense of how strong she can be—but, then the toxic mould of shame is spreading through what is (and mostly because this is, still) very much a man’s world. Emad just won’t stop … until, by the film’s end—and the production’s—it’s as if he’s both been impersonating himself and straying so, so far from the man he could—or should—be.
(4 stars out of 5)