Tropic Sprockets / The Salesman

By Ian Brockway

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) directs a flawlessly unnerving thriller “The Salesman.” The film is searingly authentic and functions as a character study as much as a biting meditation on human emotion, specifically the unsavory appetite for revenge. This film is up for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Film category, and it is one of this year’s best.

Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are forced to flee their apartment as it is about to be bulldozed, although the reason is unclear. The couple takes an apartment previously held by a volatile escort and her son. The two are unsure of the new place, but being both very busy (Emad is a teacher and Rana co-stars with him in a local production of Death of a Salesman) they agree to the terms. They are further dismayed to learn that the previous tenant has left her personal things behind and has issued threats.

The story builds perfectly. Emad is constantly under the gun at school and the theater. His students laugh at him and the audience is lackluster with the cast frequently breaking character and acting disrespectfully. Once at home, Emad has no energy, romantic or otherwise.

During a particularly long night, Rana leaves the house door ajar, thinking Emad’s return is imminent. Rana is discovered bleeding profusely from a head wound. Emad becomes obsessed.

A highlight is the performance of Farid Sajadhosseini as a sad but surreptitious older man. 

This film is a dark cousin to Paul Verhoeven’s “Elle” in tone and feeling. More subtle than “Elle” it is deceptively domestic with fine detail and hits with a punch, starkly highlighting the hollow euphorias of getting even. 

Short of Shakespeare, you will be hard pressed to find a more nuanced study of ego and stubborn pride. Better still, the film holds its potency until the very end with an inexorable rhythm that is as pained as it is human.

“The Salesman” may well be this year’s sleeper masterpiece. While at first lulling you with domesticity, it is a story that only gradually hints at darkness. Then, like a slow noose, it tightens bit by bit and refuses to release its hold.

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