Sunday, 9 April 2017

Film Review: "The Salesman" (2016).




Charles Bramesco of Rolling Stone called it "Gripping". Bilge Ebril of Village Voice called it "An expertly made suspenseful film". This is The Salesman (فروشنده‎). This Iranian drama film directed and written by Asghar Farhadi. The film centres on a married couple who are both participating in a production of "Death of a Salesman". During the production, the wife is assaulted in her new home, which leaves the husband to identify the perpetrator over his wife's objections, while she struggles to cope with post-trauma stress.

Long before it went into production, the story for the film gestated in the mind of director Farhadi for years. The purpose for its long gestation was due to the lack of characterisation Farhadi needed for his two main characters. This was finally solved when he conceived the idea of having his main characters being stage actors. Part of this decision owed to Farhadi's own background in the theatre, and his desire to re-immerse himself in that atmosphere. He also felt actors had to think of themselves as other people and create empathy, and his male protagonist would be forced to feel empathy for another man. Searching for a play within the film, Farhadi researched the work of Jean-Paul Sartre and Henrik Ibsen before finally settling on Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, which he described as "a gift for me". In Miller's play and his script, Farhadi said he found parallel themes of "humiliation", and also compared the relationship between his characters Rana and Emad to that of Linda and Willy Loman. More symbolism was added with the crumbling buildings, which Farhadi said represented crumbling relationships. Farhadi was so taken by this project that he decided to stop his ongoing project in Spain with Penelope Cruz and return to Iran to make the film. He decided to cast and collaborate again with Shahab Hosseini in the lead role, marking their third collaboration. During early production, Farhadi posted an ad on social media asking people to send in short video auditions of themselves. Thousands of Iranians participated in this call for auditions with the hope of appearing in Farhadi's latest film. Other actors from Farhadi's 2011 film A Separation are also cast, and he explained the connection was because his films are about young couples. 

The film was the official submission for the 'Best Foreign Language Film' category of the 89th Academy Awards for Iran in 2017. The film ultimately won, making the film Farhadi's second nomination and win for Best Foreign Language Film in the Academy Awards: the first one was A Separation. However, under U.S. Executive Order 13769 mandated by President Donald Trump, Farhadi was not there to receive the award. A few days after the Oscar nominations were announced, Farhadi made a statement that he would not attend the ceremony due to Donald Trump's executive order barring Iranians from entering in U.S. Farhadi then announced that Anousheh Ansari, known as the first female space tourist, and Firouz Naderi, a former director of Solar System Exploration at NASA – would represent him at the Oscars ceremony. When the Oscar was awarded to the film, Anousheh Ansari read his prepared statement during the acceptance speech: "I'm sorry I'm not with you tonight. My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S. Dividing the world into the us and our enemies categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war. These wars prevent democracy and human rights in countries which themselves have been victims of aggression. Filmmakers can turn their cameras to capture shared human qualities and break stereotypes of various nationalities and religions. They create empathy between us and others - an empathy that we need today more than ever."

The film stars Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi and Farid Sajadhosseini. As in all the director's work, the cast is given top consideration for their realistic acting results and unusual depth of characterization.

Morally complex, suspenseful, dense and consistently involving, The Salesman captures the messiness of a dissolving relationship during its dark descent into "justice" with keen insight and searing intensity. Just when it seemed impossible for Farhadi to top A Seperation, this film comes along to prove the contrary. Just the former, the film is simple on a narrative level yet morally, psychologically and socially complex, it succeeds in bringing Iranian society further into focus in today's troubling geo-political climate in a way few other films have done. The provocative plot further casts a revealing light on contemporary Iranian society, taking on issues of gender, class, justice and honour as a married couple, in the midst of upheaval, winds up in conflict with a morally complex one. Showing a control of investigative pacing that recalls classic Hitchcock and a feel for ethical nuance that is all his own, Farhadi has hit upon a story that is not only about love, family and justice in today's Iran, but that raises complex and globally relevant questions of responsibility, of the subjectivity and contingency of "seeking justice", and of how thin the line can be between justice and revenge – especially of the male variety. It is a shattering experience, fueled by Farhadi's expert direction and his superb cast that includes Alidoosti and Hosseini. You cannot watch the film without feeling kinship with the characters and admitting their decency as well as their mistakes. The Hollywood films made this year that deal with the internal detail and difficulty of family life are airy, pretty and affluent compared with this film. With the best will in the world, Hollywood's finest cannot discard their aura of stardom, yet the actors in the Iranian film seem caught in their characters’ traps. Even though the film's tense, fast-moving editing from start to finish can not help the film's somewhat draining over two hour runtime, it is still one of the best films of the year.

Simon says The Salesman receives:


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