The Salesman review: Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winner finally makes it to British soil, but will you buy into it?

The Salesman review by Paul Heath, March 2017.

The Salesman review
The Salesman review

After competing in-competition for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and walking away with the award for Best Screenplay and Best Actor for the formidable performance of Shahab Hosseini, The Salesman‘s success has grown and grown, culminating in Oscar triumph in the Best Foreign Language Film category at last month’s ceremony.

Asghar Farhadi‘s film comes to UK screens nearly a year after its high-profile debut, British audiences waiting with baited breath to see what all of the fuss is about. The Salesman opens with groups of people seen fleeing a crumbling apartment block; cracks starting to appear all around them as chaos unfolds. Amongst them is the aforementioned Hosseini playing the lead as Emad Etesami, and also his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), both unaware that the blistered building is a physical metaphor for even more damage that is about to come their way.

After moving into a smaller rooftop apartment, adjusting to living in a different abode, Rana is sexually assaulted by an intruder, the young women letting her attacker into the property thinking her husband had returned home from work. Following the attack, the pair return to their roles in an amateur dramatics performance of Arthur Miller’s ‘Death Of A Salesman’, thought the incident is clearly, and quite understandably, not sitting comfortably with Emad.

The Salesman review
The Salesman review

Neglecting to inform the local police of the assault, Emad decides to take things into his own hands and this brooding narrative shifts from a family focusses, character-driven drama to an all out revenge movie. Piecing together what’s known; like the fact that it appears that the intruder has something to do with the previous tenant; the money left on the sideboard; the mysterious truck left outside, and the bloody footprints trailing down the stairs outside their front door, Emad sets out to uncover the truth, and to seek some kind of retribution for the personal invasion.

The whole plot sounds like a film a la the Death Wish series, or a low-grade straight-to-DVD muscle-bound bonanza, but obviously coming from the acclaimed director of films like A Separation and About Elly, The Salesman is far from it. It’s clear from the outset that we’re in store for something special, the talented Farhadi meticulously taking his time to set up the play and his very deep, involved characters, and developing the story with a conscientious approach, with subtle nods to issues involving Iranian society.

The story is kept very simple, and is magnificently set against the backdrop of this basic production of Miller’s ‘Death Of A Salesman‘, its presence very relevant to the proceedings on show away from the theatre. The performances are notably top-notch, completely across the board, the stand-out being Hosseini’s Emad, a man tortured by absolute heartbreak, fear and rage. He commands every scene he’s in, Alidoosti’s Rana very much much pushed to the background, but the young Iranian actress convinces with a brutally damaged portrayal of a woman who has had everything taken from her.

The Salesman review

As stated above, Farhadi’s direction, script and pacing is not swift, but you can feel the intensity grow as the movie shifts gears during a what appears to be a very normal family meal two-thirds in. Choosing not to focus on the violence, the film hardly shows anything violence on-screen – so much so that a simple slap makes you jolt from your seat, the film is unhurried, but it holds your attention throughout. This owes a lot to the supreme direction, the gifted filmmaker covering so much ground with words unspoken over its brisk two hour running time, with just about enough drama saved for the very uncomfortable climactic scenes where you’re not quite sure which direction Farhadi will take you.

The Salesman is very much deserved of its many honours and achievement over the last twelve months, a gift to cinema and an absolute treasure to be discovered, all down to its restrained, magnificent construction and near-flawless central performances. An absolute treasure.

The Salesman review, Paul Heath, March 2017.

The Salesman is released in select cinemas from Friday 17th March 2017.

The Salesman