There is a terrible noise and the apartment building begins to shake - what is happening? Married couple Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) grab what clothes they can and hurry out of their home, helping their neighbours as much as they can to get out. A look from the window reveals the foundations of the place have been jeopardised by construction work, and everyone there will have to find new homes, which can be tricky in Tehran as the couple know, but luckily they have a friend who knows there is an apartment free that they can move into almost immediately. They are actors, and have been rehearsing a staging of Arthur Miller's classic Death of a Salesman - but theatre can be jeopardised too.
Writer and director Asghar Farhadi's The Salesman became somewhat overshadowed as a piece by all the controversy surrounding it at the time of its Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Picture. This was down to his very public decision not to attend the ceremony, not because he disagreed with the awards, but because he was not going to be allowed into the United States since the Government had introduced a travel ban for people coming from various Islamic countries, or countries that were regarded as harbouring enemies of America that had a high proportion of Muslims in their population, and Farhadi's native Iran was one such nation. This certainly raised the profile of his work, if nothing else.
It was interesting because The Salesman promoted a decidedly non-violent solution to violent crimes, about as far away from the U.S. Government's conception of all Muslims as potential terrorists as it was possible to get; maybe if the administration had watched some of the director's output they might have learned something. This one specifically used the convention of many an action movie, where the hero wreaks revenge for an assault on the woman in his life, yet offered it a more considered approach, asking if such reactions were born of wishing to stand up for the woman in question, or more likely get back at the attackers because the man's pride had been injured and therefore the vengeance was all about him and not her.
What happens is that after the opening night, Rana returns to this new place and begins to ready herself for bed; she hears the building's buzzer go and opens the front door and the door of her apartment, expecting Emad back, and returns to the bathroom. Then it is revealed that it is not her husband, it is an intruder, and one of the worst things possible occurs as Rana is raped and knocked unconscious, left in a bloody heap on the floor and Emad furious but confused, is left to fit the pieces together as to who the culprit is. The more he learns, the more disillusioned he grows, for he and his wife are a nice middle class couple who this sort of crime just does not happen to, or so he believed previously, and now he finds out that the previous tenant was a prostitute, and it is more than likely Rana's rapist was one of her clients.
However, this man does not appear to be very bright, for he has left his keys behind and also a wad of cash for services rendered, one of the biggest insults in Emad's mind. What was curious was he does not go to the police, who you imagine would solve the crime fairly quickly and bring the attacker to justice, nope, he turns detective as if it was he who was assaulted and he must bring his own brand of getting even to bear. His reaction to this is thrown into sharp relief by the last act where he does indeed uncover what he wants to know, and the big question is, does he force the culprit to reveal this to his family, which would not only ruin his life but theirs too, or does he recognise that doing so would cause nothing but more pain? Rana is all too aware of what it is like to be horribly humiliated (another reason why the police are not called in a society where women are subject to strict rules about their position in life) and does not wish to see that happen to someone else, not even her rapist. It was a dilemma that maybe Farhadi took an easy way out of, the ending was rather open, but it a film that felt important in starting discussion, more so than a traditionally satisfying narrative in some ways. Music by Sattar Oraki.
[Curzon's Blu-ray does justice to the material, and the extras are premiere footage, an interview with the director, and the trailer.]