“The Salesman”

The winner of the best foreign language film of 2016, “The Salesman” is a provocative look at Iranian culture. Director and writer Asghar Farahdi also won an Oscar for his 2011 film ” A Separation”. He is good at showing the male/female dynamic in a culture where power is so skewed in male favor. The film is complex and shifts settings and registers from the classroom, to the set of a stage production of Arthur Miller’s ” Death Of A Salesman”, to daily family life in modern Tehran.

Our protagonist is a high school English teacher, he and his wife are also parents and actors. Emad Estesami ( Shahab Hosseini) and his wife, Rana ( Taraneh Alidoosti) must quickly evacuate their apartment complex. Windows are cracking and plaster is crumbling.  A construction project next door has destabilized their space. In an initial scene, we see all the residents tumble down the stairs amid the smell of gas.This is a precursor of things to come.

When a friend finds them temporary shelter in a friend’s semi-abandoned apartment,   an intruder surprises Rana in the shower. Her screams draw residents, and Rana and Emad’s life will never be the same. Part thriller and morality play, “The Salesman” is unevenly paced in real time, except for one six months later jump. Once the pitiful deviant is found, our sympathies sway. Emad, the patient teacher and husband, comes unhinged. Once easy and jocular, Emad is revenge-filled. Questions like ” Can an obsession with justice be unjust? ” and ” Can self-doubt humiliate beyond repair?” throws us back to Linda and Willy Loman. Viewers understand that “attention must be paid”. Our stories are not so easily judged.

 

“Steve Jobs”

Screenwriter Alan Sorkin has given us a verbally fast-paced wonder that highlights the need for a balance of personal intellectual and emotional intelligence. Themes of regret, cruelty and love are shown at a frenetic pace with the added dizzying use of the memory flashbacks of Michael Fassbender playing Steve Jobs. The historical accuracy of actual arguments,motivations or relationships is not a point to be debated. Andy Hertzfeld,the key programmer for the Apple team says it best,”the film deviates from reality,but explores deeper truths”. See “Steve Jobs” as a psychological study of why people hurt one another,and why others forgive. Director Danny Boyle and his cast of stunning actors have delivered an almost Shakespearean tale of a flawed icon of success. We need to be reminded that to be a successful human being the “whole brain” has to work.

This film is hard to watch because the brilliant Steve Jobs had very little emotional intelligence. You find yourself catching your breath at his disregard for people and what they value. Viewers tense up as Jobs micro-manages details and demands instant gratification in results. In one scene, Jobs has a colleague search the building for any man with his frame wearing a white, pocketed shirt that would hold the apple disc. He needs this shirt to be stripped off him,now. Steve wants a room’s “Exit” sign lights blackened;he will pay the fine. He wants his way; he alienates people.Snipes and threats thunder through the Apple story arc. Hysteria is the tone. As Apple rolls out banners,your stomach is roiling; yet,it is one of the best films of the season. It will remind you of last year’s “Whiplash”. Is anything okay in the name of progress?!

Apple product launches in 1984,1986 and 1998 form the film’s structure. We see Jobs with his co-founder, Steve Wozniak(Seth Rogen);with his programmer,Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg);with his chief marketer,Johanna Hoffman (Kate Winset); and with his CEO John Scully ( Jeff Daniels). Add Chrisann, Job’s ex-high school girlfriend played by Katherine Waterson, and Lisa, his daughter played by Makenzie Moss at 5 years of age,Ripley Sobo at 9 years and Perla Hanley-Jardine at 19, and we have the superb cast.

Enjoy the Irish Fassbender’s “Zen elevator ride”,his driven demeanor,his blustery but brilliant language. Like Michelangelo searching for the perfect veined marble or Leonardo Da Vinci doing it all, Jobs ironically opens a New Renaissance of connectivity,as he breaks down his own personal connections. Kate Winslet as the “Steve Whisperer” and “office wife” is compassionate,brave and really good at her job. Though Winslet’s on-and-off-again Eastern European accent seemed to get heavier the longer she lives in the States,her “fix it,or I quit” ultimatum shows that she cared enough for daughter and father to forcefully adjust Job’s distorted reality field.

Seth Rogen delivers some of the most memorable lines as Apple’s co-founder who is fixated on Jobs acknowledging the Apple 2 Team. Mind games begin with “why do you want people to dislike you?” to Woz’s own admission that “I am tired of being Ringo when I know I am John.” And as Steve Wozniak, Rogen is great in his soft “Just acknowledge that something went on that was good and you were not in the room”. It reminded me of Wiily Loman and “attention must be paid.” The feeling left was pure “Death Of A Salesman” demoralization.Finally, Woz’s “It is not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time.” All of this hints at Greek tragedy. What is the capacity to be wrong when one thinks one is right? How do our perceptions of our personal history push us to be spiteful or  push us to be loving ?

Jeff Daniels is wonderful as Apple CEO, John Scully. He visually changes in the fourteen year span. His whole demeanor looks like the regret of the sigh, “The things we could have done.” Michael Stuhlbarg,as the talented programmer Andy Hertzfeld, is marvelous,too. We see a man pushed to the limit worrying about ethics. “Done without malice” seems to be his mantra in constrast  to Jobs. The voice recognition guy, the hardware engineer has found his voice for the “out of control” who needs control. While Jobs is insulting,hurtful and arrogant-acting, Andy H. is suggesting a therapist for Job’s daughter,Lisa, and writing a check for her next semester at Harvard. Stating that Lisa needed a strong, male role model did nothing for the man,who wanted to put music in her pocket. Sorkin’s “scorch a second” culminates in the 19 -year -old Lisa deriding the I-Mac as looking like a Judy Jetson Easy- Bake oven.

“Steve Jobs”is not a bio-pic any more than the novel “Euphoria” is the true Margaret Mead. Lily King’s fiction is fiction and Alan Sorkin’s “Steve Jobs” is, too. Based on Walter Isaacson’s authorized Steve Jobs’ biography, Sorkin’s film adaptation soars to a mesmerizing level. “Time” magazine’s “Man Of The Year” doesn’t make mistakes even on a personal level is proven tragically wrong. His statement that “28 percent of men in the U.S. could be Lisa’s father” is excruciatingly callous. His giving a “lifetime free pass” to the other Steve is condescending. Yet, Steve Jobs seems to be the “revenge machine”. Chrisann tells the mythologized father of her child that “things don’t become so because you say so.” At the film’s end, the strobe lights keep flashing, and we are reminded to keep listening as we push for what we think we want to see. Fassbender deserves the Oscar for his operatic performance and Alan Sorkin deserves ranking with Arthur Miller for his screenplay.