Review: Fiercely dramatic but with a featherlight touch, The Salesman is a triumph

Award-winning director Asghar Farhadi returns with the 2017 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner

Award-winning director Asghar Farhadi returns with the 2017 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner The Salesman. Picture: Habib Majidi/Curzon Artificial Eye - Credit: Habib Majidi/Curzon Artificial Eye

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose previous was much acclaimed A Separation, returns with the 2017 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner that shows his mastery.

The Salesman (12A)

*****

Even though it comes from the director of the much acclaimed — by real people, not just critics, A Separation, this is a hard film to rave about.

The title and the synopsis – an Iranian couple's relationship begins to crack as they both appear in a stage production of Arthur Miller's Death Of A Salesman – are dull enough to brush aside even the most enthusiastic and gushing of critical plaudits.


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I get your reservations but Iranian Asghar Farhadi's film is a phenomenal achievement. Its subtlety, cunning, and fierce dramatic weight - all applied with a featherlight touch - are such that it had me dusting down that elusive fifth star.

The other reason the film is hard to gush about, is that I would like to say as little about it as possible, and allow Farhadi to guide you through his meticulously plotted but discreetly mysterious tale with as little baggage as possible. The film opens in chaos – the residents of a Tehran apartment block are forced to suddenly evacuate when it looks like the whole building might be about to collapse. The sequence is done in a single unbroken shot that must've been hell to organise but is so effective at capturing the emotion of the scene you probably won't even notice it. As a result of this, the central couple Emad and Ranni (Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti), are forced to move to a new place organised for them by a friend in the production, Babak (Babak Karimi.)

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The previous tenant has left most of possession there and they discover her presence still has a strong hold over the place. Subtly doesn't always survive the process of subtitling but Farhadi's script is a master class in casually dropping in pieces of information that will be relevant later.

You never know where he is going with it. He also has a good eye for knowing how much ambiguity to leave in the mix.

There are plenty of issues to discuss after the movie has ended, plenty of areas of grey, but the film's denouement is still completely dramatically satisfying.

His skill with the pen is matched by his skill with the camera, knowing how to frame a scene or move the camera to get across the meaning of a scene.

Take that opening scene in the apartment building. If this were an American film I'm sure the director would make a big deal of showing you how incredibly intricate and clever the scene was, and would probably throw in a couple of homages to other films. Farhadi isn't interested in showing his mastery. While American filmmakers are primarily interested in other movies, Farhadi is interested in life.

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