Photographer turned writer/director Mitra Tabrizian brings an enigmatic character to the screen and provides a window to a life probably unseen and unconsidered by most cinema audiences.
Acclaimed Iranian actor Shahab Hosseini (The Salesman, A Separation) plays the titular role of Gholam, an Iranian taxi driver living in London, working two jobs and living in one damp room. He belongs in neither world properly, occupying space somewhere between the two. It’s existing rather than living.
We’re told very little about Gholam – we see that he’s a quiet man, a bit of a loner, and gradually we begin to accept that he seems like a decent man who helps elderly people, always pays for his meals and doesn’t want to create any fuss.
And then one day, minding his own business, he is recognised as a possible war hero from the past by a shady character, and finds himself with a decision to make.
Gholam moves at a gentle pace, with Hosseini doing a lot of walking in the London rain as he mulls over his options and tries to decide how much of himself he is prepared to compromise. And Hosseini is so good at that. We can see his internal conflict without him having to explain himself to anyone. His face and demeanour conveys so much.
It’s also a film which shows an unpleasant corner of London, and it’s no accident that the small kindnesses we see are for the most part between immigrants, whereas the local Londoners range from highly irritating business types to bigoted violent thugs, and it’s not pleasant.
I don’t imagine this will get a very wide theatrical release, but if you come across it anywhere, it’s definitely worth 90 minutes of your time.
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.