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Review: The Salesman

February 3, 2017

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

the-salesman-posterAfter being forced to flee their Tehran apartment due to sudden construction that threatens to topple the building, Emad (Shabab Hosseini) and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) take out a lease on a shabby new room.

But the old tenant refuses to remove her stuff, and when an incident occurs involving a mysterious visitor that sends Rana to the hospital, Emad becomes determined to get answers and maybe even seek vengeance.

As their lives start to unspool, the husband and wife try to keep it together to perform in a censored amateur theatre production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, but their real life drama starts spilling over onto the stage.

Winning the Best Actor and Best Screenplay prizes at last year’s Cannes, and Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, The Salesman is another engaging morality play from Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi.  Although it isn’t quite as powerful as his previous films A Separation and The Past, of which it can feel somewhat derivative, The Salesman unfolds in intriguing shades of grey, taking tragic but seemingly inevitable turns in the last act.

The writer-director continues to use a humanistic touch to explore characters who are struggling with the greater implications of their moral decisions, set against the backdrop of societal expectations in modern Iran.  The film keeps us watching with solid performances and a quietly simmering sense of suspense, that is set up right from the harrowing opening scene.

The film has added political relevance now in the wake of Donald Trump’s travel ban from seven Muslim countries including Iran, which will prevent Asghar Farhadi from actually attending the Oscars.  Even if he is granted an exemption, the filmmaker has decided not to go in solidarity with his country, and his full statement on the whole unfortunate situation can be read right here.

The Salesman is now playing in limited release at Varsity Cinemas and Empress Walk in Toronto.

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