In Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s new film The Salesman, revenge takes on a different dimension and has far-reaching consequences. It’s a morally complex relationship drama on the surface but, in essence, it’s a mystery film in disguise – Farhadi’s Hitchcock film, if you will.
In a way, the film shares a slight resemblance to Farhadi’s 2009 film, About Elly, in which the sudden disappearance of a young woman creates a considerable amount of chaos in the lives of everyone who was close to her. In The Salesman too, an absent woman is involved in the resultant chaos, albeit indirectly.
It all begins when a seemingly happy couple – Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) – move into a new place after their former apartment is on the verge of collapse due to a construction work going on nearby. When the impact of the work causes cracks to appear on the walls, the tenants, fearing for their lives, are forced to evacuate.
Life in their new apartment is violently disrupted when an unknown intruder barges in while Emad is away. Rana becomes a victim of his attack – the nature and extent of which isn’t quite clear, but we assume that it is still bad enough to shake both of them up. She survives a serious head injury and Emad starts looking for potential clues and immediate answers. He finds some old socks on the floor and a wad of cash on a cupboard.
He eventually deduces that this has something to do with the former tenant – a prostitute – whose belongings are still in one of the rooms. She hasn’t come to pick them up yet. Apparently, the intruder came in expecting her, made quite a mess and ran away when he realized that it was someone else. Emad’s persistence in finding answers and meting out justice puts a strain on their marriage. She is tired and wants to put all this behind but he won’t.
The cracks appear once again, only this time they are invisible. The husband and wife also act in a play – Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman – and this incident affects their performances too. When the culprit is finally discovered, we are slightly taken aback because we expected a different kind of man – but it shouldn’t be surprising considering the world we are living in. What Farhadi has constructed here is something that is worth debating and pondering over.
How would you react if you were in Emad’s place saw the state of man you are dealing with? His decision is swift but it might take much longer for us to come up with something sensible and, above all, just! Would you still be resilient and pursue justice, even if it puts your marriage in jeopardy? This is one of the most suspenseful and emotionally challenging pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen. It’s my pick for the Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars.