The Salesman: It’s better to leave well alone
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2016: Teaming up with French company Memento Films, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi brings us a new narrative gem on the theatre of the human condition
Gifted with exceptional skills in observing different sides of the same situation in their most ‘ordinary’ human dimensions, together with formidable skills in developing them in writing a screenplay, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi once again demonstrates just how acutely talented he is with The Salesman [+see also:
film profile], which was unveiled in competition at the 69th Cannes Film Festival.
Returning to his homeland after his successful adventure of making a film in French (The Past [+see also:
film profile]) which was his first film to be selected for the most prestigious section of Cannes in 2013 (with the film winning a prize for best actress to boot), the director this time chose to explore the consequences of stubbornness strong enough to take over when it comes to the grey area in which the desire for revenge and the intention to fix things, to rebuild something new intertwine. And it’s clearly not by chance that Emad (Shahab Hosseni) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), the protagonist couple of the film, are part of a theatrical troupe rehearsing Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, a piece that illustrates the power of destiny in the face of the will to struggle on, broaching, among others, the sub-themes of lies and the fact that everyone is partly responsible for what happens to them. A reflection of the little theatre that is life and the influence of external circumstances on inner perception which Asghar Farhadi pulls off with superb finesse with a storyline that is very simple in appearance centring around a disruptive event and a series of errors of judgment, with each character believing that they are doing the right thing and seeing the situation come back to turn against them in each case.
Forced to leave their apartment in a hurry after building works weaken the foundations of the building they live in, running cracks up the walls and putting the building at risk of collapse (a situation caused by human actions then and not by nature as the occupants initially assume, panicking that an earthquake is underway), Emad and Rana, a couple of childless thirty-somethings, find themselves on the street. Quickly abandoning the idea of going through legal channels to get their deposit back, they accept an offer from one of their fellow actors, who wants to help them and has an empty apartment, a stroke of luck in a city as overpopulated as Tehran. But the previous occupant is storing cumbersome personal effects there and has left a reputation behind him that results in an incident that leaves Rana injured. Suffering with a head wound and traumatised to the point of not wanting to be left alone, she nevertheless refuses to talk about what exactly happened in the bathroom that fateful day, when she buzzed a stranger into the apartment by mistake (believing it was her husband returning home), who then fled from the scene leaving his car keys, money and a mobile phone behind. Whilst his wife refuses to press charges (out of shame) and tries to get back on her feet in her own way (only looking after her friend’s child restores a bit of her confidence), Emad tracks down the vehicle, abandoned in the neighbourhood, a baker’s van, but his desire for revenge brings us no shortage of surprises, and has an impact on the relationship between the couple in private and on the stage they rehearse on everyday... A chain of events in which pointed moral issues (Emad is also a teacher at the high school and gradually becomes less and less of a role model, for example) and the various possible hidden levels of interpretation are broached with remarkable subtlety by Asghar Farhadi, who has once again teamed up with French production company Memento, which is also selling the film internationally.
(Translated from French)