With Iran back in the headlines these days, it’s an especially opportune time for the release of “The Salesman,” the latest film from Iran’s most well-known director, Asghar Farhadi. In fact, Farhadi recently made news when he said that he would not attend this year’s Academy Awards in light of President Trump’s executive order regarding immigration and travel, even though “The Salesman” is nominated in the foreign-language-film category.
But those unfamiliar with Farhadi’s work shouldn’t get the wrong idea. His films, such as “About Elly” (2009) and the Oscar-winning “A Separation” (2011), don’t deal explicitly with politics or Iran’s troubled relations with the U.S. Instead, he turns his focus on middle-class and lower-middle-class Iranians and their relationships with each other, lending those outside Iran a glimpse beyond the cable-TV news bulletins, into a fascinating society trapped between a conservative Islamic hierarchy/bureaucracy and Western sensibilities.
In “The Salesman,” Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are a married couple and actors involved in a production of “Death of a Salesman,” Arthur Miller’s classic play about the American Dream. But when we meet them, it’s not onstage but as they’re escaping their apparently shabbily constructed apartment building that’s collapsing around them.
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With their home uninhabitable, a fellow cast member says he knows of an apartment they can rent. The place seems perfect — except that the previous tenant has left much of her stuff there. If Emad and Rana could peer into the future, they would take that as a sign that maybe they should keep looking. But beggars — and actors — can’t be choosers, so they move in.
As the situation and the mystery involving the woman who used to live there becomes increasingly complicated, something happens that puts a stress fracture into their marriage. The fallout from this gives “The Salesman” its absorbing narrative drive.
Farhadi, who also wrote the script, excels at digging into the sinew and soul of relationships, ones made all the more difficult by the heavy hand of an often smothering society.
Hosseini and Alidoosti are both excellent as they convey their characters’ weariness with living a life of disappointment.
“The Salesman” isn’t as impressive as “A Separation,” but it’s still a powerful expression of lives, and dreams, interrupted.
In Farsi with English subtitles
Exclusive: Landmark Magnolia, Dallas; Angelika Plano; opens March 10 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi
Rated: PG-13 (mature thematic elements, a brief bloody image)
Running time: 125 min.