Asghar Farhadi/ Iran France/ 125 mins
At cinemas 31st March
The latest film from critically-acclaimed Iranian writer/director Asghar Farhadi, The Salesman serves as a realistic interpretation of the often-formulaic ‘revenge’ narrative most commonly associated with B-grade Hollywood thrillers or graphic exploitation films such as the Death Wish series. The film follows Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), a couple who move into an apartment previously occupied by a woman who was supposedly a prostitute. One night, Rana is assaulted by a man who she lets into the apartment believing him to be Emad.
Whilst other films would choose to focus on the violent nature of the assault and the subsequent revenge undertaken by the protagonist, The Salesman instead placers greater emphasis on the effect the assault has on Emad and Rana respectively as well as how it impacts their relationship.
Emad tries to take action by attempting to uncover the attacker’s identity and wanting to report the incident to the police. In contrast, Rana wants to keep the details of what happened private, despite the events visibly traumatising her to the point where it affects both her and Emad’s onstage performances in a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman in which they are both appearing . Farhadi continues this focus on the couple’s affected relationship with later scenes showing Emad’s growing frustration with Rana’s unwillingness to report the assault to the police and her emotional trauma. Another scene shows a conventional family meal being disrupted by new information concerning the attacker, with Farhadi skilfully balancing the tone by interspersing brief comic interludes from a child guest in between the serious conversation between Emad and Rana.
Whilst The Salesman‘s climax does adhere to genre conventions by featuring Emad confronting Rana’s attacker, Farhadi depicts this event with minimal violence, instead emphasising the emotional consequences of both Emad and the attacker’s actions on their respective relationships with minimal ‘closure’. The film features nuanced and effective performances from the entire cast, particularly from Hosseini and Alidoosti. As Emad, long-time Farhadi collaborator Hosseini manages to effectively convey the character’s transition from a laid back teacher/part-time actor to a man who coldly and efficiently tracks down Rana’s attacker. Likewise, Alidoosti manages to portray Rana’s emotional trauma following her assault without resorting to soap opera-esque overacting or histrionics.
The Salesman is a well-deserved Oscar nominee that provides a much-needed naturalistic perspective on what in lesser hands could have been a cliched revenge narrative.