The Salesman (2017)

Viewed February 4th

A young Iranian couple experience unsettling resonances between their real lives and The Death of a Salesman, the play in which they're both performing as actors.

The Salesman opens with a tremor in the physical realm and ends with a tremor in the psychological realm. After the near-collapse of their building, Rana and Emad are forced to move into a new apartment. Little do they know, the previous tenant was a prostitute. When one of her old clients arrives and is confused to find Rana in the bathroom, confusion ensues and he apparently touches her, possibly even attacks her, although the exact events are unclear. Whatever occurred, it was understandably traumatic for Rana and this triggers the otherwise warmhearted Emad's capacity for revenge. All of this is complicated, though, by the fact that when the perpetrator is found, he's a rundown old salesman not unlike the character of Willy Loman that Emad is currently playing every night in the theater. And what's more, after the man's family comes to save him following his collapse, they see that the old salesman has a doting, matronly wife, not unlike Willy's wife Linda, who, of course, is being played every night by Rana. When Emad does get his revenge, it's laced with regret and moral confusion, for both him and Rana, who are forced, in an almost hellish irony, to perform those characters on the stage that same night. These layers of complication and devastating lack of closure are perfectly registered in the film's final shots, in which Rana and Emad are backstage, being made up and costumed to perform their roles.

Director Asghar Farhadi tells this story without telegraphing a thing or reducing the characters or scenario to the sort of quick description rendered in the previous paragraph. The resonances of the scenario comes upon the audience in the same waves of clarity and ambiguity that the characters experience so that, although one can summarize what the film may mean, any such description will inevitably miss the depth of what transpires on-screen.