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The Salesman review

12 Mar

With The Salesman, Asghar Farhadi is back with the stories of the Iranian middleclass, and for the second time he has made waves and dared to breach impenetrable Academy walls.  At the centre of the drama is again another traumatic act of violence, one which the characters should live through; all the more painful because they should also deny it while not being in denial.

Reminiscent of About Elly (2011) not just in the repetition of the lead actor Taraneh Alidoosti but also because of the playfulness and spontaneity that mark the establishing sequences of the film, Farhadi has however turned over from thriller to drama. The Salesman is a deft interweaving of the superbly technicraftive American play, Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, which the couple Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are playing parts in, as Willy and Linda.    The dysfunctionality of the family in the play is contrasted with the functionality of a robust middleclass life which comes with the normative elements of semblance of gender neutrality, geographical mobility, and consumerism. As violence finds its way in to the private life of this couple, the dysfunctional family of the play breaks down and the breakdown of middleclass normalcy is signified by the substitution of colours and spaces in the film.

The movie opens with a scene of emergency.  The apartment in which Emad and Rana stayed until then is giving way thanks to the work of heavy machinery outside.  This then requires them to move elsewhere in the city.  This enforced mobility is also a celebrated mobility.  The film opens with indoors but soon moves to spaces that gesture infinite continuity outside the frames.  The city, the set of the play as seen from above, the passageways that denote more rooms on the way in the new flat they occupy, all of these point to a liberation from the confinement of the space which was trembling and soon to be grounded.  This implied infinity of space outside the frame is complemented by the material richness caught in the frame.  The colours of the movie turn lush through the bright red and velvety black of the theatre, the soft tones of the green room, the many cartons, pairs of shoes, clothes, shampoos and lotions, and face mask that linger on the screen declaring to us the irony of an unseen Iran where the bauble trying to pass off as understated is in a hysteric symmetry with the irony of the fully clad woman, Miller’s Miss Francis, having to say that she is improperly dressed thus implying Willy’s infidelity.   Farhadi’s middleclass is a tactile reality even as it plays out its aspirational irony in the theatre.  It is the breach of the personal which bridges the gap between the public and the private in the film.  One by one we see the richness of the screen replaced by steady intensifying affect of frugality.  The infinite space return to the closed ones, those of the parking lots, dilapidated homes, darkened classrooms, etc.

What is remarkable about the film is that it conveys a crucial bind of living out (rather than in) the modern, that the distinction between the private and public is also a distinction between plenitude and scarcity of language in these two spheres.  The crucial drama in the film is about maintaining a knowing private life and a repressed public life.  The ingenuity of Farhadi is not in exploring ever new ways of entering the space of the public but of anguishing over the ways to keep it away.  And the audience is neither the bearer of knowledge nor the one who is kept at tenterhooks, but that very epitome of modernity, the doubting subject.

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