The Salesman (4 stars)

The Salesman

Oscar-winning drama from the great Asghar Farhadi, documenting a crumbling marriage

The unexpected Oscar win for Asghar Farhadi's The Salesman (Forushande) might well prompt a re-evaluation of a film that, on its premiere at Cannes last year, initially felt like a lesser achievement than the Iranian director's previous Academy Award winner A Separation. Here, Farhadi seems to stray into Michael Haneke territory as a middle-class couple's contented relationship threatens to unravel after a series of random misfortunes.

Cracks in solid foundations are a constant theme in a film that begins as construction work destroys a building. Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and schoolteacher Emad (Shahab Hosseini) are forced to abandon their home as windows shatter and walls crack open. They accept a friend's offer to stay in a flat where the previous tenant became notorious for the number of unsavoury gentlemen callers she entertained at all hours of the day and night.

An attack on one of the characters really brings The Salesman into sharp focus and applies an unbearable pressure to the relationship. Farhadi ratchets up the tension and watches as neither Rana nor Emad respond in the ways that each of them needs. She comes to regard the new apartment as a curse and he never seems as concerned as we might have anticipated. The couple are members of a semi-professional theatre company and are appearing together in a production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Everything that remains unspoken between them during the day finds an outlet each evening on the stage.

The Salesman is a slow-burner that grows more tense and involving with each breath. A sense of powerlessness and paranoia takes a grip on lives that seem to be at the mercy of malicious forces. In the end, Farhadi is able to blend plot, pace and atmosphere into a compelling drama that illustrates how you can never entirely know the person you love.

Selected release from Fri 17 Mar.

The Salesman

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • Iran
  • 2h 5min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Asghar Farhadi
  • Cast: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi
  • UK release: 17 March 2017

Rana (Alidoosti) and Emad (Hosseini) are forced to abandon their home, but when they stay in another flat, pressure grows on their relationship. Farhadi weaves themes of professional failure and paranoia into a compelling drama about lives at the mercy of malicious forces.