“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.