Big thanks to Kernel Jordan for submitting a review for THE SALESMAN, this foreign Oscar winner has been on my radar for a while. I have heard nothing but great things. It has been screening for a while now in art-house cinemas but is still screening. Check all your local art-house cinema directories to locate it. If you love a great foreign film you will love this. THE SALESMAN is a French/Iranian movie and is released in Australia by Hi Gloss Entertainment. It is rated M and runs for 125mins. Enjoy Jordan’s thoughts………all the best………JK.
BY JORDAN DODD
Fresh off winning an Oscar for best foreign film (why these films can’t be considered for ‘Best Picture’ is a frustration best kept for another time), THE SALESMAN eludes simple convention and wrings the most out of a fairly standard narrative. It does this by focusing on character, and by doing so it depicts the mental degradation a man experiences on a one-way road to revenge.
THE SALESMAN PLOT
During a production of the play Death of a Salesman, a couple, Rana and Emad, suddenly find that their house is crumbling, and an extended shot probing out of one of the cracked windows shows us why this is happening. After successfully evacuating, the couple are forced to quickly find a new place, and after mentioning that they are close to sleeping on the stage of their set, Babak – a colleague working with them – offers to help.
Upon seeing the house, the couple decide it will be a temporary arrangement. Unbeknownst to them, the house was originally the home of a prostitute. This arrangement didn’t go well, as when the new couple are introduced to their new neighbours, once out of earshot the neighbours ask Babak to make sure that this doesn’t turn out like the ‘last one’.
This detail about the previous tenant is left out by Babak when the couple move in, and when they enquire about why all her belongings are still in the house, they are told that she will be picking them up as soon as she finds another house. This omission causes wife Rana to be a little lax on security, as after a rehearsal of the play, she buzzes in who she thinks is her husband, who was due to arrive home at around this time.
A HEALTHY DOSE OF REVENGE?
Cleverly, THE SALESMAN does not show what happens at all – the last thing we see Rana opening the door for her husband, the camera lingering on the door, ever so slightly opening further before the film cuts to her husband, who is making his way home and arrives only to find blood on the steps leading to his apartment, his wife gone.
Thanks to the help of their new neighbours, Rana is safe in a hospital. It is not strictly implied, but it is safe to say that the event involved rape. It transpires that the likely assailant was a customer of the previous occupant. One of many things that begin to fuel Emad’s rage, as he somewhat unfairly demands of Babak why he wasn’t told about the previous occupant. Babak is graceful and offers to help, but Emad doesn’t want to hear it, even improvising lines into a performance of their play so he can yell at Babak that he is a degenerate.
Meanwhile, his wife doesn’t want to call the police, and neither does he. They both have very different reasons for why they think this way however, causing their relationship to slowly fracture. Emad is so entangled in his quest for revenge though that he fails to notice this in any way, despite Rana’s attempts to stop him. Emad is taking the situation personally, despite the fact that his wife was the one assaulted.
GENDER INEQUALITY IN IRAN
Emad taking the rape of his wife personally is part of an obvious theme running through THE SALESMAN: the treatment of wives/women by men in Iranian society. We see a small glimpse of this early, as when in a packed taxi-cab, a woman sitting next to Emad first asks him to move over, despite the fact he is squashed against the door already. She soon asks if she can switch seats with the young man in the front passenger seat. Even though he did nothing to cause this, her reaction is obviously the consequence of a past interaction with a man gone wrong.
More overtly though is the way in which Emad begins to treat his wife, becoming increasingly dismissive of her post-traumatic stress, taking it upon himself to hunt down the attacker outside of official protocol, which he believes will be a waste of time. Rana wants to put it all behind her, but her husband refuses to let this happen. Soon after the attack, Rana tries to perform her role in the play, but eventually leaves the stage in tears. Emad again doesn’t empathise with her situation, rather, he expects her to fall in line and get over it. He doesn’t explicitly say this, but his actions certainly do.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN
One doesn’t need to be steeped in the history of the stage to grasp why this particular play is used in THE SALESMAN. While a very different story, the film and the play share themes of denial, the loss of self-identity and eventual mental deterioration. Emad could also be seen as a salesman of sorts at the beginning of the film, as when discussing the play with his students, it is immediately clear that he has won the respect of most of the children, joking with them but ultimately teaching them about a subject that are often unpopular. He has sold the notion that his subject can be interesting for young teenagers, and even convinces the kids that watching his play will be fun for them.
Shahab Hosseini, playing Emad, is a big reason in why THE SALESMAN is as powerful as it is, despite its relative simplicity. His portrayal of a man rapidly shifting through emotions like a greyhound processing the grieving process is incredibly believable. He begins as a happy, married, popular school-teacher who is starring in a play. After his wife is attacked, his emotions take on the traits of a pinball, and Shahab clearly depicts where his character is emotionally, often without the need for words. His ability to truly inhabit his character is a big part of why the ending of the film is so gut-wrenching.
The gravity of his performance wouldn’t be possible without the on-screen chemistry he shares with Taraneh Alidoosti, who plays his wife Rana. Or perhaps more accurately, a lack of chemistry. The couple initially seem happy, but their depiction of a couple slowly growing apart is incredibly believable. This (lack of) chemistry is especially important as the film moves on – we see how Emad’s actions are affecting his wife’s mental state, and can only guess at what lies in store for their future. Both actors inject this dramatic story with a realistic tone, and this is further cemented by every other performance in the movie. There are no weak links, including a few child actors.
Superbly shot and produced, there is little to complain about THE SALESMAN. The pacing is deliberate, as new pieces of information are methodically fed to the audience. This isn’t for everyone, but if you are looking for a revenge film that subverts the genre’s norms, this is certainly one to watch.
Jordan Dodd is an aspiring novelist hailing from Adelaide, Australia. His first book is a chronicle of his experiences in a rehab centre that was more of a cult than anything else, and his goal is to finish it and pitch it to someone who matters. It can be found here. He also enjoys writing about film, which is probably his biggest obsession (apart from writing). When not writing for Salty Popcorn Jordan has his own website – he can be contacted via www.epilepticmoondancer.net