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Published February 22, 2017
Review: 'The Salesman' is profound and universal
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For the third time this year the International Film Showcase in Orinda will feature an Oscar-nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. Lamorinda has already been treated to two others: "A Man Called Ove" from Denmark, "Tanna" from Vanuatu - and now the very powerful "The Salesman" from Iran.
Drawing parallels with Arthur Miller's play "Death of a Salesman," the film demonstrates the universality of human frailties - consequences and redemption, guilt and revenge - and poses many questions, leaving spectators to draw their own conclusions.
Emad is a high school literature teacher and a stage actor. His students love him and his wife, Rana, also a stage actress, is charming. When the movie starts they are both in final rehearsal of Miller's play; Emad is the Salesman on stage and Rana plays his wife. As the building where the happy couple lives threatens to collapse, they have to move to another apartment in haste. One day the wife is seriously attacked in the new location. Who did it, and why? What was the real nature of the aggression? Will the perpetrator be found? Will the wife and her relationship with her husband heal?
Director Asghar Farhadi, who won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for his movie "A Separation" in 2011, asks all the right questions but does not always give easy answers.
The movie deals with themes that have been developed even before the Old Testament's story of David and Bathsheba - all humans are weak and struggle with sin. But there is also existentialism in this movie: Human beings are nothing else but the sum of their actions. The perpetrator is otherwise a good person, loved by others, but one act changes everything. Like in Miller's Salesman, there is no escaping one's misdeeds. And in this movie, the perpetrator is not the only one who suffers the consequences of his acts.
Men are driven by their instincts of temptation and revenge in Farhadi's film. They can't control the emotions that drive them to act wrongly. The women, especially the central character, are more vulnerable, but ultimately stronger and more human.
Emad meets a man living with a hidden sin that could remain unknown if Emad decides not to act, but he confronts him. Like in Miller's story he wants the man, a lesser-educated simple man, to face what he did in front of his whole family, and to bring him shame, regardless of consequences. But ultimately the more educated man proves just as frail and driven by his instinct as the other. With no pity for his "salesman," Emad perpetrates an act that could destroy him. Beyond social status and education, all men are the same; they have to carry the weight of their sins for the rest of their lives.
The movie draws other parallels with Miller's play. For example, denial of reality is present. The wife who was attacked vacillates between wanting to go to the police and just forgetting about the whole thing. She even manages to get rid of one of the clues that could lead to discovering the identity of her aggressor.
Using an American play as the backdrop of the film underscores that human beings are the same everywhere. The movie is set in today's Teheran, and opens a window to everyday life in the Iranian capital city: the labyrinth of terraces and ill-maintained buildings, the presence of censorship, the women's condition.
The movie is also a thriller, keeping the audience in suspense until the final most dramatic 10 minutes.
The actors give strong and convincing performances. Shahab Hosseini as Emad and Taraneh Alidoosti as Rana dominate the cast with their presence and subtle acting.
This movie of ambiguities, contradictions and doubts takes the spectator through each character's quest of what is right and what is wrong. The big question is whether, after six years since "A Separation," Farhadi can land a second Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
"The Salesman" will open Feb. 24 for one week at the Orinda Theatre. For information, go to www.lamorindatheatres.com.

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