“The Salesman” (Iran)
Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar, one would be forgiven for having sky-high expectations of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s latest release. Alas, those expectations go unmet, which, given his previous film, “A Separation”, is pretty shocking.
A thriller, a revenge fantasy and, I suppose, a commentary on the nature of betrayal, Farhadi weaves between the story of a couple dealing with the aftermath of a violent act and their work as the two leads in a production of “Death of a Salesman”. How they intertwine, or why, is a bit of a mystery and only acts to confuse the goings on. If “Salesman” acts as an allegory about the restrictions placed on Iranians, or the position of women in a Patriarchal society, fine, but those connections are not well drawn out, so you sort of wander through the desert of what could be an episode of “Law & Order SVU” mixed in with…uh…art? Further, the actions of the third act far outweigh your investment in the characters and, worse, ring solidly untrue.
This is not to say many elements are not excellent. The editing (Hayadeh Safiyari) and pacing are fine, the framing of the shots and subsequent cinematography (Hossein Jafari) is exceptional. And the performances, as well, are exceptional, in spite of the failings of the story. Shahab Hosseini (Emad & Willy Lowman) and Taraneh Alidoosti (Rana & Linda Lowman) are on point and, as a result, you believe their relationship teeters in the aftermath of events. And without the brilliant subtleties of Farid Sajjadi Hosseini’s Naser, this would REALLY be a misfire.
This might have been a great film, but Farhadi needed to fine tune the message (and the script) to make it rise above a mere simple tale. I believe it was nominated based on his incredible prior work, which is fine. Happens all the time. But when mediocre films, no matter how highly touted, are rewarded with the marketing power that an Oscar nomination provides – over such brilliant films as “sieranevada“, “The Happiest Days in the Life of Olli Maki“, “Neruda“, “The Handmaiden” or “The Confessions” – it’s disappointing. These are the films I’d like my friends to see, and, especially in the case of “sieraneveada” and “Olli Maki”, they sure could’ve used the clout. Ah well, at least we have “Land of Mine“, which I believe is the best film in ANY language this year.
Written on 2/14/2017