5 January 2017 | James_De_Bello
After having just moved into their new home Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), a couple of fellow actors find themselves in a difficult home life situation after a violation of their home. S they go through the performances at the local theater of Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman' their relationship takes a left turn from which it might not ever go back.
I tried to keep the synopsis as vague as possible so not to spoil the film, since, as in most of Farhadi's films, the inciting incident comes in later in the film and the drama ultimately does not develop until the third act, something that this director likes to do and at which he excels, always giving priority to the space in which characters develop and live their everyday lives.
And those are exactly the reasons why "The Salesman" is a fantastically subtle and morally complex revenge tale masked as a home drama, which has some of the best work by actors I have seen in 2016, even though this might be too slightly of a familiar territory from Farhadi.
It is no coincidence that Shahab Hosseini won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival, if there is one reason why this film succeeds it is him. This performance is raw and authentic in its own unique way, he manages to guide us through every one of the stages of degradation his character goes through and he manages to do so without us noticing. On a surface level the character arch he goes through would be hard to believe, there are some changes that wouldn't appear natural when spelled out. Yet, Hosseini manages to sell us on this person and all of the turbulence he has to go through, he manages to enhance little moments that I can't imagine working on paper. He fits right into the world that Farhadi builds and comes out giving a powerhouse of a performance that guides the audience through the whole narrative.
Certainly, Farhadi deserves to share some of the credit for the performance too, for many reasons. Firstly, just as in all of his film, the performances across the board are just flawless, he directs actors to perfection and he doesn't even give you a chance to realize this. The way in which he uniquely manages to capture everyday life is profoundly stunning. From the camera-work to every detail of the blocking of actors right down to every word they say, the fabric of ordinariness he succeeds in putting on screen is flawless. I have no idea if this is all meticulously thought out or if it is left to brilliant improvisation and I don't want to know, what is clear to me is that as a director his methods work excellently and the results he manages to produce on screen are remarkable.
Then, when it comes to building the drama, Farhadi is just as masterful. The evolution of it is natural and doesn't ever feel forced upon the characters, the parallels traced with theater might be a little too on the nose, but they are stunningly relevant and used to an incredible cinematic effect. He manages to build and build the drama and make it culminate in a riveting finale where all of the themes and the moral questions the film asks flow out naturally from it and leave you hanging at just the right moment. He also manages to build a complex web of visual cues and use them effectively to complement the characters and the story, once again here the visual parallels with the theater are a joy to see unfold.
It has to be said that this is very familiar territory for Farhadi, the contrast of personal justice versus institutionalized justice is very relevant is his past film "A Separation" and so is the outlook on revenge, the degrading and the toll it takes on the individual and the destructive results of it. Sometimes it even feels like he is retracing his steps and for someone who has seen his film this might result in a slightly predictable outcome, even though the self contained drama in the film never looses its relevance to the characters, ultimately resulting in a constantly fascinating watch that challenges the viewer and defies traditional cinematic beats and expectations