The Salesman won the Academy Award for the best foreign film a few days ago. Asghar Farhadi, the director, was not present but had someone else read his statement: “My absence is out of respect for the people in 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.” His statement went on to critique the practice of “dividing the world into the ‘us’ and ‘our enemies’ categories.”
The cracks begin to appear as Emad wants to know what happened and pressures Rana to report it to the police.
Farhadi refuses to let us make a similar divide in his films by filling them with characters that don’t allow us to fully align with one or another. We find someone we have empathy for, then that person does something that makes us question that choice and gain empathy for another person, and then that character does something.
In the first scene of The Salesman, a married couple, Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini), wake to window panes cracking and breaking under the pressure of their apartment building, which appears to be beginning to collapse. What seems like earthquake tremors are caused by earth movers making way for another building going up near by. The walls form long cracks, just as their marriage soon will. No foundation can fully withstand what is about to transpire.
Emad and Rana must find another place to live, so they move into a smaller apartment owned by someone in the theater company where they perform. When they arrive, they discover one room is still stuffed with a former tenant’s belongings.
One evening, Rana returns from theater practice before Emad. When the buzzer goes off to open the entry gate, she pushes the button to unlock the front door, assuming it is Emad, and she heads to the shower. It is, however, a client of the former tenant, who is a prostitute. We never get to see what happens, but we know it is someone other than Emad who will find Rana in the shower. When Emad does get home, the floor is covered with broken mirror, and a trail of blood leads to the steps. He rushes to the ER to discover Rana having her face stitched up. Here we see that the failure of the landlord to mention the occupation of the former tenant, seemingly a small oversight, leads to a chain of actions that culminate in lot of grief.
The cracks begin to appear as Emad wants to know what happened and pressures Rana to report it to the police. She isn’t sure she wants it to be public, and she suspects that since she unlocked the door, they will blame her. Rana is frightened, has trouble sleeping, and fears being alone. Emad finds the phone and truck keys the man left behind. Emad is more interested in the hunt for the man using the clues of the truck and the phone than in being present to Rana’s need for him to be with her.
Eventually we meet the man who left the truck, along with his family. Rana is tense, and Emad makes matters worse, putting his own unwavering need for retribution ahead of her needs. I won’t give away the climactic scene, but we must struggle along with Rana and Emad as they discover whether they can keep their marriage from cracking apart. What will she do as she understands that he may not care as much about what is best for her as he does to fulfill his need to get revenge and assuage his guilt about being unable to protect her?
The film raises important questions. What is the most important thing after a trauma like this? Who should get to make decisions about public disclosure? How important is retribution and the public humiliation of the offender? To what lengths would you go to prevent your family from seeing you publicly humiliated? Finally, Farhadi asks us to consider carefully how much our need to feel in control and to avoid any humiliation makes it that much more difficult for us to feel empathy for another human.
The Salesman is a mysteriously unfolding drama that will give you plenty to enjoy and to think about. I would also recommend you find Farhadi’s 2012 foreign language film winner, A Separation, which I consider to be an even better film.
The Salesman is rated PG-13.
All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.