The controversy surrounding Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman” lead to him not coming to the United States to accept his Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The tension between the United States and Iran led to what became a political statement during the award’s show. And maybe that played into its eventual victory, but removing all the controversy, “The Salesman” is an excellent example of auteurism.
Ironically, the film has little to no political themes and could easily be plugged into the culture of any other country and be just as captivating. In fact, the use of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” throughout the film acts as a marriage of sorts between cultures and proof of worlds that aren’t so far apart.
As “The Salesman” opens, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) Etesami are forced to leave their apartment as it is deemed unsafe. Just as their participation as actors in a rendition of “Death of a Salesman” begins, they must find a new home to live in. A fellow actor, Babak (Babak Karimi) finds them a new place, which has been recently vacated by its previous resident.
One evening, Rana is home organizing and cleaning the new apartment when she is attacked by a perpetrator. Emad sets out to find the individual who attacked his wife as he seeks justice.
Farhadi is no stranger to writing award winning screenplays as his film, “A Separation” also took home the prize for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars in 2012. In “The Salesman,” he has constructed story, but an enthralling one that keeps its audience constantly wondering what is coming next. It is apparent that Farhadi set out to create a film that has universal appeal and with a thoughtful lesson to hold viewers’ minds hostage for the days following the initial viewing.
The acting ensemble led by Hosseini and Alidoosti is exceptional. Never once are these characters confused for performers trying to be bigger than their roles. It is easy for one to relate to these characters’ situation from the very stand-point of the human desire to protect loved ones. It is a shame that Alidoosti’s performance wasn’t recognized by the Academy. Her ability to capture the life changing events of being attacked and having to deal with the emotional aftermath is perfection. Hosseini certainly holds his own as the stoic character in need of keeping his cool.
The film doesn’t try to impress audiences with over the top cine-matography or gimmicky special effects. Fahadi lets the film speak for itself. The characters tell their story, and at times it seems like it’s not going anywhere, but the intrigue is always there.
“The Salesman” isn’t going to leave its audiences in awe, but it refuses to let go well after its viewing. Much of that is its ability to latch onto the humanist aspects of its delivery. Its lack of a groundbreaking cinema experience forces viewers to focus on its purpose, and that is where it thrives.
Farhadi does well to capture the minds of his audience. It doesn’t matter whether they are from Iran or the United States or anywhere between. Every person who experiences “The Salesman” has an opportunity to connect with its universal message. Patience is necessary as it slowly burns toward a climax, but it is well worth the experience. And in a tense political climate, the world could use a film that represents foreign cultures as they are, more similar than different for other cultures around the world.