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Tuesday, May 9, 2017


All the roles, large and small, are perfectly played by an excellent cast. (Review: Patrick Compton - 9/10)

This is a deeply absorbing, suspenseful account of the serpent of patriarchy that lurks within even the so-called enlightened marriage of a cultured, middle-class Iranian couple in Tehran.

Writer-director Asghar Farhadi already has one Best Foreign Film Oscar to his name in the shape of A Separation, now this year’s triumph of A Salesman gives him a pigeon pair.

Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are part of Tehran’s modernist elite. He is a popular English teacher at a local university while both engage part-time in amateur theatre. The opening scene of the movie shows the stage set of Arthur Miller’s famous play, Death of a Salesman, in which the couple take the lead roles of Willie and Linda Loman. Throughout the film, Farhadi switches from the action onstage to the increasingly sinister sequence of events off it, suggesting certain parallels.

In the early scenes, we are shown just how enlightened and popular Emad is with his intellectually curious students, while he and Rana seem a model bourgeois couple, a seemingly vast intellectual distance away from the nation’s fundamentalist rulers whose presence is felt off-camera by the occasional reference to the censors threatening to amend the play’s script.

But the worm of corruption is hinted at early on when the couple are forced to leave their apartment because of the building’s physical instability – the fissures in the wall perhaps symbolising impending cracks in their relationship.

They are then directed by a friend to take occupation of another apartment, but are disturbed to find that its last tenant was, effectively, a “wild woman” (effectively, a prostitute). This fact comes back to bite them when Rana is “disturbed” in the shower by a stranger who clearly believed he was visiting the other woman. This mysterious event – we are never quite sure what happens to Rana beyond suffering a head injury – gathers a kind of dark momentum that leads to a tense, brilliantly observed final sequence that serves as a coruscating judgment not only on the marriage but also on the society in which it operates.

All the roles, large and small, are perfectly played by an excellent cast. Of the two central roles, it’s perhaps unfortunate that the filmmaker is less focused on Rana’s character, particularly as one of the movie’s central themes concerns the treatment of women in Iranian society. The fact that the increasingly imperious Emad is more concerned about his “honour” than he is about his wife’s traumatised emotional and psychological condition tells you all you need to know about the nature of their relationship.

As the mystery begins to unfold, Farhadi cleverly excludes authority figures such as the secular and religious police, thereby subtly underlining their grip on society. With Rana realising that a visit to the police would only increase her problems, it is left to Emad to turn amateur detective in a bid to track down the man guilty of the offence.

This leads to the film’s final half-hour that provides a gripping climax to the drama, and an artful knife thrust to the heart of the marriage and the flaky foundations that underpin relations between men and women in Iran.

A Salesman opened at Cinema Nouveau, Gateway, on May 5. – Patrick Compton