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The Salesman review: Gripping portrait of a marriage falling apart

Sahil Bhalla | Updated on: 29 March 2017, 21:52 IST
(Film still)

The walls may be crumbling around them - husband Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) - but it isn't until they move into their new apartment that the cracks are visible, both inside and outside. The movie starts with the couple being forced into quickly finding a new place to live. This is a result of nearby construction, causing cracks in the foundation of their building.They find a new apartment where the previous tenant and her child left so quickly that their things are still strewn around one room of the apartment, including a bike near the entrance. In the first few minutes, Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi reveals a couple whose life is full of cracks, whether on stage, at home or with other people the couple interacts with.

They find a new apartment where the previous tenant and her child left so quickly that their things are still strewn around one room of the apartment, including a bike near the entrance. In the first few minutes, Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi reveals a couple whose life is full of cracks, whether on stage, at home or with other people the couple interacts with.

Rana and Emad are a mid-30s couple without a child. They are members of a theatre company that is engaged in the Tehran production Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman" - hence the title of the film. Onstage, the couple play Willy and Linda Lomans, both playing older, worn out characters.

In his Oscar-winning movie A Separation and in The Salesman, Farhadi uses the technique of not showing the viewer what exactly happens. In A Separation, there is a scene in which a woman falls down the stairs, something the viewer is not privy to and the viewer doesn't know why. It makes the viewer think about the whys, about the possible societal forces that ensure the invisibility of a woman in pain.

In The Salesman, Rana is washing up in the bathroom when she hears the buzzer. Upon thinking it is her husband, she unlocks the door and returns to the washroom. Then nothing. The viewer is then shown Emad's return home. He finds blood on the stairs and in the bathroom - and subsequently finds Rana in the hospital.

Rana is in shock and won't talk about the incident that led to her getting stitches. The viewer is left without sight, empty. The only clue for the viewer is a pickup truck left behind by the attacker.

Whilst Farhadi's movies are surrounded by urban environments, it's the contemporary takes on them that viewers of his films will be familiar with. In The Salesman, Farhadi manages to keep the pacing of the story crisp and speedy without the script seeming hurried.

Moments of silence

The incident between the unseen attacker and the wife reveals the tensions within the marriage. Rana, upon returning home from the hospital, is terrified of the world she lives in. She's constantly distraught.

Emad, on the other hand, doesn't trust the police and wants to solve the attack on his own. Why? Is he trying to prove his masculinity? Or save, or hurt, his seemingly troubled marriage. Farhadi gives hints, but cleverly leaves much to the imagination, and interpretation, of the viewer. Is Emad truly seeking justice, the righting of a wrong, or revenge?

Rana's emotions are hard to pin down. The devastation she's faced lingers like a slow burning candle. It's the intertwining of the pursuit of the attacker along with the distrust in the authorities. It is also the intertwining of the story the couple are facing in society and in the play - where the son's father finds out his dad is seeing a prostitute.

It's the long lingering moments of solitude where Rana doesn't quite know how to deal with the situation and the the viewer is left just as uncertain.

Of seeking revenge

It's Emad's search for justice that becomes quite central to the meat of the movie.

The last quarter of the movie leaves the viewer breathless. When the husband tries to take it upon himself to find the attacker, you know things aren't about to go down well. It's in this vein that the quest for revenge ends up punishing and disciplining the one seeking revenge just as much as the person being sought out.

There is the indirect element of class that plays out during the final few scenes of the movie that are as poignant as the scenes before it.

This film may not be as hard hitting as Farhadi's previous Foreign Langauge Oscar winner A Separation, but it is a fine work of art that must be seen.

Rating: 3.5/5

First published: 29 March 2017, 21:52 IST
 
Sahil Bhalla @IMSahilBhalla

Sahil is a correspondent at Catch. A gadget freak, he loves offering free tech support to family and friends. He studied at Sarah Lawrence College, New York and worked previously for Scroll. He selectively boycotts fast food chains, worries about Arsenal, and travels whenever and wherever he can. Sahil is an unapologetic foodie and a film aficionado.

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