Movie Review - The Salesman (2017)

The 89th Academy Awards nominated it for Best Foreign Language Film. It was the official submission from Iran. It won Best Actor and Best Screenplay at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival where it debuted. It won at the National Board of Review. It was nominated for a Golden Globe Award and a Critics Choice Award, and this is not the first heap of praise for its writer-director Asghar Farhadi.

His film A Separation (2011) was Iran's official submission to the 84th Academy Awards where it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay. A Separation won for Best Foreign Language Film, marking the first Iranian movie or the first movie from the Middle East to win in that category. Farhadi became the first Iranian to win an Oscar. He was soon after invited to become an Academy member.

With The Salesman, Farhadi was of course invited to attend the ceremony that will be held on February 26 in Los Angeles. However, there is a bit of controversy. The nominations were announced on January 24. On January 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that suspended the entry of alien nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq and Iran.

Being that Farhadi is an alien national, born and raised, and still living in Iran, he became unable to travel to the United States. He became caught up in what's been labeled the "Muslim ban," making him the first Oscar-winner to be denied attendance at the Oscars due to the President.

Farhadi has his Master's degree from the University of Tehran. He's been married since 1990 and has two children. He has done nothing but make interesting to great cinema for about 20 years. He's an artist, not a terrorist. His ban is a horrible consequence to Trump's radical push for safety and the so-called protection of this country because it's not just artists like Farhadi but who else is being denied in fields like science or medicine?

A federal court might shoot down Trump's immigration ban. However, there is an interesting parallel to be made between Trump's action and what happens in this film. Shahab Hosseini stars as Emad, a husband and actor who is working on Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Emad has the titular role. Taraneh Alidoosti co-stars as Rana, the wife of Emad and fellow actor who is also working on the same play. Something bad happens to Rana. She's terrorized in her own home as one could say. Emad's reaction to this could be perceived as an over-reaction, an over-reaction that only hurts innocent people, just like Trump's over-reaction with this executive order.

The difference is that arguably Emad learns his lesson, or at least he sees the effects of what he's doing and he pulls back. Yes, he does require his wife to be the strong catalyst, but he ends up not exacting the revenge he wants. Trump exacts his revenge in a sense, but likely Melania Trump isn't acting as a catalyst to stop him. The federal court is the only thing that can stop Trump.

Like with A Separation or The Past (2013), this movie centers on the relationship between a married couple and the things that can drive them apart. Farhadi excels in telling domestic dramas, and what can happen behind closed doors between two people intimately involved with one another. With the exception of The Past, all of the films by Farhadi that have made it to the U.S. have had an incident of violence. Typically, the incidents have been accidental, at least on the surface. The eternal question of intent is at the heart of any act of violence and is always at hand in Farhadi's films, riding the line between whether his character are prey to misfortune or malevolence.

Farhadi has always been good at writing simple yet compelling incidents. Nothing ever feels over-the-top or ridiculous. He is good at building tension and drama. Most of it takes place all in one location, in their apartment. It's never boring though. He keeps things busy and active within this one place. He does cut away every now and then to the play that Emad is doing, but it's rather incidental. The real meat happens in the home.

There is a really juicy scene in a car, but the movie never strays too far from their apartment. Yet, I doubt many critics would accuse it of being stagey or not cinematic as they said about Fences (2016), which it isn't.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements and a brief bloody image.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 5 mins.


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