This film exemplifies one of the reasons why I love watching films in languages other than English. I know nothing about everyday life in Tehran apart from what Iranian filmmakers show me.
Here, Asghar Farhadi shows how the relationship between a teacher and amateur actor, and his wife (also an amateur actor) is put under pressure following her assault by a stranger in their home, and his inability to know how to deal with the resulting emotions.
What’s interesting that I can imagine the same responses from men all over the world, and that this is nothing peculiar to Iranian men.
Following the attack, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) seems more concerned with tracking down the perpetrator to exact revenge than with ensuring his wife (Taraneh Alidoosti) feels safe and well. It becomes all about him – perhaps because of guilt that he wasn’t there to prevent it, or that his lateness allowed the incident to happen – or perhaps that he just can’t allow himself to accept what occurred and so finds excuses not to be with his wife. He’s evidently an intelligent and caring man, but this is all outside of his coping mechanisms.
The strains of the marriage are mirrored in the cracks appearing in walls and windows of the apartments inhabited by the couple – and actually, mirroring is an important visual feature throughout the film. So often people are looking in mirrors, or we see them reflected windows as if Farhadi is nudging us to take a view of things at more than just face value.
Alongside the strand of domestic strain we are able to glean some fascinating insights into life in modern day Tehran – buildings appear to be bulldozed with little forewarning; amateur dramatic societies are under the eye of a government official who could choose to censor certain passages of the play they are putting on (in this case Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesmen, from where the film adapts its title); a number of books are banned from the college curriculum.
For me, The Salesman is on a par with Farhadi’s previous films About Elly and A Separation – I wasn’t as keen on The Past as others have been. This is a very moving and intelligent performance from Shahab Hosseini (also in About Elly and A Separation), and it’s no surprise that he claimed the best actor award at Cannes last year.