On Not Leaving Well Enough Alone: Farhadi’s “The Salesman”

In the first-rate Iranian film, The Salesman (2016), by Asghar Farhadi, Emad, the main character, is not a salesman.  He is a schoolteacher who plays a salesman—Willy Loman—in a local production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, but this is not the only role he is drawn to assume.  A second role is that of vengeful husband after he discovers the man who mistook Emad’s wife Rana for a prostitute and may have impulsively abused her.  Although he’s a smart man who surely knows how to leave well enough alone, Emad, failing to do this, acts the dishonored avenger; and it ends badly.

Human weakness and fault are all over this downer of a film, but as well people are trying to adjust to, and stay alive in, urban society in general and Iranian society in particular.  The old apartment building where Emad and Rana live begins to collapse due to nearby construction work.  The former apartment of a prostitute, the couple’s new home, invites some aggression.  That the police are never called to investigate the situation has something to do with the fact that, as Anthony Lane puts it, “The woman [in Iran] is the guilty party until proven innocent.”

Life in The Salesman has people limping along day after day, and even those who charge ahead, as Emad does, are limping.  What Farhadi’s men believe themselves justified in doing—and they do gain our sympathy—suddenly pushes them and their wives against the wall.  Both sexes demonstrate their vulnerability, in a marriage, alas, which may be in jeopardy.  Is there a new role to take on that will salvage this?

(In Farsi with English subtitles)

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