In what is probably the only-on-the-nose metaphor of the entire film, "The Salesman" opens in an apartment building nearing collapse. Due to construction next door the foundations of the building are falling away, evidenced by the deep cracks forming along our protagonists' bedroom walls. Married couple Emad and Rana rush around their crumbling apartment grabbing everything of import before the building comes tumbling down.
Set in modern day Tehran, "The Salesman" features a storyline and a set of characters that are equally layered and complicated. Emad and Rana are both starring in a community production of "Death of a Salesman" while managing day jobs on the side. When one of their co-stars offers to rent them a shabby but spacious apartment just a few blocks away from their old place, they jump at the opportunity. Shortly after moving in, an intruder attacks Rana and she receives a nasty head wound, thus changing not just the dynamic of the living space, but the couple's entire relationship.
Rana becomes a bundle of anxiety, afraid to stay home alone and always wanting Emad around. At the same time, she can't deal with intimacy. Emad is obsessed with finding his wife's attacker. He blames himself for not being there to protect his wife, but he's also becoming disillusioned with Rana's newfound fears and apprehensions. As they struggle through life during the day, they reconnect at night to perform the play.
Director Asghar Farhadi is a master at escalating tension in ways both naturalistic and Hitchcockian. Even during scenes of quiet conversation or intense contemplation there are always a dozen things swirling beneath the surface, ready to bust. "The Salesman" is infused with Farhadi's razor-sharp ability to find the tiniest moments of disillusion in relationships, while also creating a neorealist thriller.
Farhadi is far too much of a master filmmaker to be overt in the film's parallels to "Death of a Salesman," but the thematic undertow pulls the audience along anyway. Willy Loman, the titular salesman from Arthur Miller's classic, is a man desperate to be remembered. He fights back against being a disappointment to his family and, in doing so, thoroughly alienates himself from them. Meanwhile, Emad feels responsibility toward Rana to find out who hurt her, regardless of her wishes. In doing so he exemplifies the toxic masculinity they both despise.
All of the characters in "The Salesman" are playing roles; not just in the play they are a part of, but also in their moment-to-moment existence. Emad is an amateur sleuth searching for revenge. Rana seeks to find strength as she moves on from a violent encounter. The people they once were are gone and only these new facsimiles remain to move them through the day. Each of us has a character we play, if not for ourselves then the world around us. "The Salesman" wants us to look at the characters we play
Dir. Asghar Farhadi
Tin Pan Theater
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