Showings: April 14-20
Times: Nightly at 7:30pm, Saturday Matinee at 1:30pm and Sunday Matinee at 2:30pm
Cost: Regular $7; Matinees $6; MVFS Members $5; Seniors over 60, Military and Students with ID $6; Wednesdays $5
Length: 125 min
Language/Subtitles: Persian w/ subtitles and English
Film Director: Asghar Farhadi
In the beginning of “The Salesman,” Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) must evacuate their Tehran apartment. There are cracks in the walls, and the highrise building is in danger of collapsing. That flawed edifice might stand as a kind of inverse metaphor for the film itself, which is a marvel of meticulous construction. With exquisite patience and attention to detail, Asghar Farhadi, the writer and director, builds a solid and suspenseful plot out of ordinary incidents, and packs it with rich and resonant ideas.
Admirers of his earlier films — including “About Elly,” “The Past” and “A Separation,” a foreign language Oscar winner in 2012 — will not be surprised. Mr. Farhadi has distinguished himself in his generation of Iranian filmmakers as an astute psychological realist and a fastidious storyteller. Although his films take place in a thoroughly modern, urban environment, there is something satisfyingly oldfashioned about his approach to contemporary life, an understated belief in the ethical value of addressing the complexities of experience through the clarity and subtlety of narrative art.
Rana and Emad, a childless married couple who look to be in their mid30s, are both actors, members of a theater company engaged in a production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Onstage, they play the Lomans, Willy and Linda, whose lowermiddleclass American world is made to look both familiar and exotic. Some of the play’s sexual frankness has been blunted by Iranian government censors — in a pivotal scene, Willy’s mistress shows up in his hotel room wearing a hat and a belted red raincoat, rather than a nightgown — and its themes of striving and sacrifice seem distant from Rana and Emad’s life.
Though they are not wealthy, the fact that they “work in culture” gives them a certain cachet, and they sometimes radiate a quiet sense of superiority in interactions with neighbors and acquaintances. The ghost of Willy Loman nonetheless hovers over “The Salesman,” suggesting an interpretive puzzle. The choice of this particular play-withinthe-film can’t be arbitrary, but its meaning is not immediately apparent. For most of its running time, the movie seems occupied with its own dramatic issues, principally the aftermath of a shocking and apparently inexplicable act of violence.
The apartment that Emad and Rana move into — thanks to the generosity of a colleague — isn’t actually haunted, but like many films about real estate “The Salesman” is to some extent a horror movie. The previous tenant was a single woman with a young child, and the stuff she left behind is more than just annoying clutter. It’s a collection of clues to an unacknowledged mystery, haunting traces of an invisible life. That life invades the couple’s household with shocking force. Rana is assaulted in the shower, and her attacker vanishes, leaving behind his pickup truck. The crime reveals tensions and fissures within her marriage, and also beyond it.
Rana, whose head was injured in the attack — other possible traumas are left implicit — is terrified and distraught, but Emad seems more concerned with the injury to his own manhood. The absence of the police suggests a lack of trust in official authority so complete that it is scarcely worth mentioning. Emad’s search for answers, and for something like justice, turns him into a reluctant vigilante, and “The Salesman” is unsparing in its portrayal of the moral emptiness of personal vengeance. It is in the midst of this painful tale of crime and punishment that the spirit of Willy Loman makes its improbable, powerful and surprisingly literal return.
“The Salesman” is about trust and honor, about violence against women in a patriarchal society, about the woe that is in marriage, but it is also about death, a salesman and the hidden brutality of class. Not since Pedro Almodóvar’s “All About My Mother,” which brilliantly reengineered “A Streetcar Named Desire,” has a classic of the American stage been put to such ingenious cinematic use. Mr. Farhadi’s control is astonishing, as is the discipline of the actors. Their final scenes are at once riveting and hard to watch. Attention, as someone once said, must be paid. (A.O. Scott, New York Times) Rated PG13