casey How do you sum up The Salesman? A tense, compelling, and surprisingly mundane thriller, maybe?
brooke A commentary on gender roles and victim blaming?
casey How about, an excellent movie that maintains a real sense of tension with sometimes flawed but highly relatable and very real-feeling characters. It’s good, is what I’m saying.
brooke Definitely good. I think there were a few things that could have been better, but I’m not sure how I would change them, so let’s just dive into the plot, shall we?
The Salesman is the story of Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), a young couple living in Tehran who are forced to move into a new apartment because their old one is literally falling apart. With a little help from a friend, they find a new place, but on one of their first nights there, Rana is attacked. The two undergo a change as Rana deals with the emotional aftereffects of the attack and Emad flounders as he tries to make everything okay.
casey Meanwhile they’re leads in a production of Death of a Salesman, and unlike a lot of movies that incorporate a classic drama, the narrative doesn’t necessarily mirror the play in a superficial way, although I think the stories share a common concern with the anguish of people unable to cope with their circumstances, which puts incredible stress on their families. In this case, Rana feels somewhat to blame for the attack, fears being alone, and is reluctant to involve the police, and Emad is unable or unwilling to support her emotionally, although he discovers some purpose when he finds a clue that leads him to the attacker’s whereabouts. It’s all constructed in a way that feels very natural, with no soundtrack and very few beats that feel “movie”-like.
brooke Most of the drama is held up only by the knowledge that one or both of them could break at any moment. It’s human drama portrayed in a way I haven’t really seen before. There’s a moment after the attack that the two are on stage and Rana completely freezes and begins to cry. There’s nothing Emad can do but stop the production mid-scene and follow her off the stage. There is a plot, and drama, but, like you said there aren’t a lot of typical beats. It doesn’t feel guided from point A to point B the way that most films do, but writer and director Asghar Farhadi manages to reflect human reaction to an assault through the plot in a way that kept me engaged from start to finish.
casey It’s how these things tend to play out in real life: they can be inconvenient and debilitating, but life and the real world continue on regardless and we’re forced to cope even when we lack a clear path forward. It’s all the more difficult because there’s an undercurrent of sexual violence to the attack, not in its details but in where and how it happens, and Alidoosti gives a powerful performance showing the anguish and ambiguities involved.
brooke Yes, the acting is incredible. Without Alidoosti and Hosseini’s facial work, this movie wouldn’t have been worth the time, but they portray care, distress, confusion, and a myriad of other emotions that make the story really come together.
casey And the tension builds slowly as Emad hunts for Rana’s assailant, but it plays out entirely differently than expected, although in a way that’s entirely in keeping with the story’s realism and empathy. There are no easy answers in The Salesman, but Farhadi handles the ambiguity with the same deftness as he does with the rest of the film.
brooke It’s hard to say that a story about an assault is done tastefully, but it just is, and it all ended in a way that made me want to sit silently and ponder for a while. Talking out loud felt irreverent for a solid 20 minutes.
casey In summary: The Salesman is good, and should be seen by anybody who can read subtitles or understand Persian.