The Salesman

This is the film that won the best foreign movie Oscar, and it was well-deserved.

An Iranian couple have to move into a new temporary apartment after theirs suffers structural damage in an incident which might have been an earthquake or more likely nearby earthworks.   It turns out that their new apartment was recently unwillingly vacated by a prostitute who couldn’t keep up the rent and has left a lot of her stuff behind.  One night shortly after their move the wife is assaulted by an intruder, and it begins to look as if he may have been one of the previous tenant’s many dodgy visitors.  

The couple obviously represent the educated liberal intelligentsia of modern-day Iran.  The husband is a popular and inspirational teacher, and he and his wife are members of an amateur theatre group currently mounting a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.  There is presumably a connection between the choice of their play and the film’s title, although I couldn’t work out what it was.

Not that that matters.  This story is both a powerful social and family drama and a psychological thriller with elements of the classic whodunnit.  The focus of the story is the husband’s emotional response to his wife’s assault, but to say that’s all it’s about would be like saying War and Peace is about how a Russian family responds to Napoleon’s invasion of their country.  In fact, I’m glad I thought of that comparison because like Tolstoy, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi sets his very human stories within the larger context of family, society and politics and in so doing creates something profound and universal. 

One for the grown-ups.

This review was first published on Facebook in March 2017