Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman” opens this weekend at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center. It is the second film by the writer and director to win an Oscar for Best Foreign Film, with “The Separation” winning in 2012.
Because of President Trump’s ban on immigration by members of seven Muslim nations, including Iran, Farhadi boycotted the Oscar ceremony in February, even though he had been granted a special dispensation to attend. A fellow Iranian read the following statement by the director: “My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.”
Like his earlier Oscar-winning film, “The Salesman” is a domestic drama that examines Iranian culture through the workings of an Iranian marriage. In the case of “The Salesman,” though, the story also evolves into a thriller.
The movie opens with Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), the lead characters, rehearsing on the modernistic set for a production of Arthur Miller’s 1949 Pulitzer prizewinning play, “Death of a Salesman.” Their roles as actors establish them as members of Iran’s intellectual and artistic class. When construction next door causes the couple’s apartment building to become dangerous, they move into an apartment managed by Babak (Babak Karimi), a fellow actor. The annoying catch is that the former resident, a woman of dubious reputation, has left behind a roomful of her and her child’s belongings, and refuses to remove them.
As the narrative unfolds, many of the seemingly ordinary domestic events help reveal what life in Tehran is like. The American play the couple is in contrasts with Iranian culture. Their unsafe apartment seems to reflect conditions in Iran. And the profession of the former resident of Emad and Rana’s new apartment is never mentioned explicitly. Once a violent incident takes place, it fractures the couple’s life as Iranians.
One night when Rana is home in the new apartment, taking a shower, she answers the apartment buzzer and leaves the door open for her husband. But instead of Emad, a stranger enters and assaults her. She has probably been raped, but the circumstances of the attack remain ambiguous. After Emad retrieves Rana from the hospital, she refuses to talk about what happened or let him report the incident to the police, fearing the consequences to her reputation. Tensions in the marriage develop as Rana urges Emad to stay home from his teaching job, and will not shower in the bathroom where the assault took place.
Determined to find the perpetrator and exact revenge, Emad begins to investigate. He finds keys, a cell phone, and money left behind by Rana’s assaulter, as well as bloody footprints on the stairs outside their apartment and the pickup truck belonging to the intruder in the apartment garage. One by one, clues to the identity of this unknown man show up, and both Babak and the former apartment resident become implicated in the assault.
As “The Salesman” moves toward its denouement, the connection between Emad and Rana and the play they are performing comes into focus. And the consequences of Emad’s search for revenge take a serious toll on the couple’s marriage.
For information and tickets for “The Salesman” and other films at the Film Center, go to mvfilmsociety.com.