After an earthquake forces a young couple to move into a new apartment, the previous occupant’s lifestyle causes strain on their relationship in unexpected ways.
I haven’t seen a lot of Iranian films, but all the ones I have seen have always carried themselves with a certain amount of social realism, even in more fantastic stories such as 2014’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. The Salesman is no exception – even as the finale takes a turn into thriller territory, the film never leaves a state of grounded naturalism. I don’t know if this is a feature of Iranian cinema, or just the ones I’ve managed to catch, but it’s certainly what I’ve come to expect.
Another facet of this film I find fascinating is its depiction of certain aspects of Iranian life. The couple are both appearing in a local production of Death of a Salesman, and there are clashes between the content of the play, and the more conservative Iranian culture. It’s not front and centre, preachy, or overt, but these little touches help to illustrate a more realistic depiction of day-to-day life in contemporary Iran, without having to reach for more melodramatic critiques.
But all of that is background – this is primarily a very domestic, personal story. Watching the gentle husband Emad (Shahab Hosseini) slowly lose himself to his rage and helplessness is often upsetting, as is Taraneh Alidoosti’s turn as Emad’s wife, Rana, who coveys a deep personal injury and despair as her marriage fractures around her. Although not quite a two-person show, the entire film hangs on the performances of the two leads, and they both rise to the challenge magnificently.
The low-key, naturalistic feel of the film extends to the direction and cinematography, with an almost hand-held feel to most shots that really helps draw the audience into each scene. To what extent this is a deliberate contrast with the ongoing stage production of Death of a Salesman that features prominently in the film, I will leave the reader to speculate.
For anyone interested in a tight, no-frills relationship study, this film is a must see – every aspect of the production is top notch, expertly drawing you into the narrative. Don’t be put off by the initial slow pace – once the first act is over, the tension and fascination ratchets up significantly. It’s a pity that the film’s appeal will be fairly limited by being a foreign language, kitchen-sink drama because it deserves wider appreciation than that. But as it is, you can be quite assured of an engaging experience with The Salesman.
Reviewed by Brendan Whittaker
Rating out of 10: 9