The Salesman is a quietly devastating film about a couple in crisis. Emad and Rana are affectionate, ordinary, middle-class. They are childless but there is talk about having a baby soon. And then one evening, in their new apartment, Rana leaves the door open thinking that her husband is coming up the stairs. But it’s another man. The intrusion disrupts their lives. Rana, badly injured, withdraws. She won’t go to the police but she can’t bear to be alone at home. But it is Emad who shatters more deeply. He becomes obsessed with finding the man. His obsession slowly frays their friendship. It reveals a side of him that Rana had never known. And of course, it inevitably leads to tragedy.
Writer-director Asghar Farhadi is too masterful a director to dabble in black and white. There are only shades of grey here. And Farhadi’s gaze holds no judgment, only empathy. The Salesman isn’t flashy or dramatic. It is meticulously crafted. Beat by beat and note by note, Farhadi creates an unbearable suspense. The last act is tough to watch because it is so raw, so revealing and so desperately sad. It overturns your emotions and underlines the emptiness of any act of revenge.
The Salesman features brilliant performances by Shahab Hosseini, who won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival, and Taraneh Alidoosti. As Emad and Rana, they encapsulate the fragility of life. The title of the film comes from the classic Arthur Miller play – Death of a Salesman. Emad and Rana are part of a theatre group, which is performing it. Life and art echo each other as everyone, including us the viewers, are irrevocably altered.
Films like The Salesman don’t often make it to Indian theaters. I urge you to support it. I’m going with four stars.