Susan Granger’s review of “The Salesman” (Amazon Studios/Cohen Media Group)
Iran’s Academy Awards entry as Best Foreign Language Film is another marital drama from Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi (“The Separation”).
When Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) Etesamis are forced to evacuate their crumbling Tehran apartment, they move into a more dilapidated abode, one that was previously occupied by a single woman with a young child.
The clutter she left behind when she was evicted gives subtle clues as to who she is and the promiscuous life she led. She’s described as “a woman with lots of acquaintances…who lived a wild life.”
Emad and Rana are both actors, working in an amateur theater company’s production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” playing Willie and Linda Loman, respectively.
There are problems translating the blunt sexuality of this American classic for an Iranian audience, particularly the local censors. Although it’s not immediately apparent, this play-within-a-play takes on subtle significance.
One day, when Emad is out, the doorbell rings. Thinking it’s her husband, Rena unlocks the front door and goes off to take a shower. But it isn’t Emad. It’s a stranger who brutally assaults her and flees, leaving his keys and his minivan outside.
Rana never saw her attacker, nor do we. When Emad suggests going to the police, emotionally devastated Rana refuses, explaining, “I don’t want to have to tell it in front of everybody.”
Indeed, Rana would have to justify why she left the door open and, inevitably, her reputation would suffer. She feels shamed, guilty and afraid to be alone, while enraged Emad is determined to track down the intruder and wreak revenge. Which he does.
When the culprit is revealed, it’s a total surprise. And the final confrontation between the Etesamis and Rana’s shadowy assailant is a riveting revelation.
Asghar Farhadi builds a suspenseful, if contrived thriller that’s haunted by themes of inadequacy, intimacy, respect and, as Miller says, “Attention must be paid.”
In Farsi with English dialogue, on the Granger Movie Gauge, “The Salesman” is an engrossing 8, an empathetic commentary on contemporary Iranian society.