Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman opened in limited release on the same day President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order banning Muslims from a number of Middle Eastern countries from entering the United States of America, including Farhadi’s home country, Iran. Let me tell you, I do feel kind of conflicted about how I don’t seem to be able to write a review without mentioning this Douchebag-in-chief and his horrific policies lately, but I think it’s particularly relevant when writing about this movie. Trump’s unconstitutional -and completely ridiculous- ban of Muslims is fueled by the fear of people whose understanding of the Islam and the Muslim world is extremely limited.
The day after Trump signed his Executive Order, it was announced that Farhadi -who is nominated for the Oscar in the category of Foreign Language Film- would not be granted a visa to attend the ceremony. An extremely ironic turn of events, considering Farhadi’s movies represent a kind of complex, humane, and very sophisticated type of thinking that doesn’t simplify every conflict and demand a simple solution. Farhadi tries to understand the characters involved, their motivations, and reflect the reality that life can be messy and chaotic. His movies never forget that humanity is found in the struggle to understanding each other, no matter how hard. These movies are the absolute moral opposite of the Hollywood myth of absolute good versus absolute evil. They are everything in between. They are nuanced. You know, the opposite of everything Trump does.
The premise of a Farhadi movie always involves a series of coincidences that build up to a controversial occurrence which sparks a series of conflicted reactions by the people involved resulting in a complicated and messy situation. Here’s how this template applies to The Salesman: Our protagonists are Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), married actors who are performing in a production of Death of Salesman. The movie opens with an earthquake, the damage of which forces the couple to temporarily move out of their apartment. One night, Emad comes back from work to find Rana has been attacked while she was taking a shower.
The details of how the attack came to pass are numerous and rather intricate. The identity of the previous tenant of the apartment, for example, comes into play. There are numerous other elements that factor into the story, and it’s not worth it to explain in detail when the movie does such a terrific job of keeping track of its own complicated plot. The important part is that this whole situation sends Emad and Rana’s marriage into a tailspin. The wife is suddenly afraid of being alone, and unsure of how to cope, while the husband can’t get over his own rage, and desire to find some sort of justice.
Justice, of course, doesn’t come. At least not cleanly. Every action brings another problem, another thing to keep in mind. In movies such as About Elly and A Separation, Farhadi proved himself as a masterful screenwriter, capable of turning polemics into intricate and unique puzzles, in which every piece falling in its place doesn’t necessarily reveal a concrete image. The puzzle is finished, but the image it forms is blurry. The Salesman is no exception. Its power comes not from seeing a righteous person act righteously, but from the not necessarily easy exercise of making peace with every character’s flawed humanity.
The Salesman is not my favorite Farhadi movie, but it’s typically strong work coming from a strong director. It will be valuable introduction for anyone who has never seen one of his movies before. If nothing else, I hope this whole visa controversy can help bring attention to the director’s work. Because sometimes it feels like if everyone had seen a Farhadi movie, with all its complications and complexities… Well, who knows? Maybe the world would be a better place.
Grade: 8 out of 10