PLOT A husband and wife move into an apartment whose previous tenant had a secret life.
CAST Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti
RATED PG-13 (adult scenes and themes)
PLAYING AT Roslyn Cinemas, Squire Cinemas and Malverne Cinema 4
BOTTOM LINE A compelling story of crime, revenge and karma. In Persian with English subtitles.
Writer-director Asghar Farhadi’s new drama “The Salesman,” which sold out screenings at last year’s Gold Coast film festival, thanks to the area’s sizable Persian population, was recently nominated for a foreign-language Oscar. It was another honor for Farhadi, the only Iranian ever to win an Oscar (for 2011’s “A Separation”), but it’s been slightly tarnished by America’s controversial new ban on visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries, including Iran.
In response, Farhadi announced that he would not attend the Oscars — a boycott, essentially — and released a statement condemning the use of fear “to justify extremist and fanatic behavior by narrow-minded individuals.”
It’s a sorry state of affairs when a director like Farhadi, whose generally apolitical films tell us that lives are pretty similar wherever they’re lived, finds himself hardening against the hard-liners. Farhadi has always seemed more akin to Emad (Shahab Hosseini), the protagonist of “The Salesman,” who remains calm even when harangued by an irate woman in a crowded taxi. “You can be sure a man acted very badly to that lady,” Emad says later, “and now she thinks they’re all the same.”
Although “The Salesman” isn’t about discrimination or prejudice, it is a fable about hatred. Emad and his wife, Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), are actors in Tehran rehearsing for a production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Desperate for an apartment, they move into a hastily vacated one, not realizing that the former tenant was a lady with frequent “visitors.” One evening, someone drops by and viciously attacks Rana, turning her into a fearful, withdrawn and emotionally unstable woman.
What follows is a dark mystery in which Emad hunts down his wife’s attacker. Along the way, though, he loses the gift for empathy that has made him such a good actor, kind husband and well-liked teacher at a local school. When Emad finally finds his man, in a gut-wrenching sequence, his humanity all but disappears.
Thematically, the connection between Farhadi’s film and Miller’s play seems tenuous, but the fact that Iranian artists are honoring a classic American work shouldn’t be forgotten. Like many of Farhadi’s films, “The Salesman” says something profound about politics without directly addressing the issue at all.