“The Salesman,” the Iranian film that picked up the Oscar this year as Best Foreign Language Film, begins with the residents running for their lives when the foundation of their building in Tehran becomes unstable and the structure begins to collapse. This imagery not only starts the film with a jolt but becomes the metaphor for the entire production from award-winning director/writer Asghar Farhadi.
Just like the building becomes a place of danger, uncertainty and concern, so goes the life of Emad Etesami (Shahab Hosseini) and wife Rana (Tarareh Alidoosti). They move into a new apartment unaware of its dark history that leads to Rana being brutally attacked.
The couple must find a way to deal with the pain and reality of having the bedrock of their relationship rocked so deeply while at the same time performing in a production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Farhadi uses many of the themes of Miller’s play – betrayal, abandonment, dealing with change, denial and disorder – to tell the story of the couple’s life away from the theater.
This works because of the central actors.
Hosseini takes on the role of a provider and protector who must face the realities he is failing as both. This creates an emotional vortex in him that begins to eat away at his connections to his wife, friends and the students he teaches.
The portrayal of his dealing with these emotions is played with a superb balance of pain and purpose. It’s a case of his wanting to be a better provider for his family but not fully knowing how to accomplish such a task. He envelopes himself in the role of the husband and wants to find a way to put the events behind the couple but he’s blocked by his wife, who refuses to talk about her ordeal.
At the same time, Alidoosti plays Rana as a woman dealing with the shame she feels following the assault while trying to find justice. She both edges on her husband to deal with the incident while pushing down his efforts to help. The attack has left her caught between a world she once thought to be secure and dealing with the aftermath of an event that has caused deep and deadly emotional cracks.
Farhadi masterfully moves between the real world and the stage production. Not only does this give him parallel points to play with but also offers a compelling look at how an American classic is seen through the eyes of others around the world.
As with “Death of a Salesman,” the finale is emotionally deep and will trigger discussions about what has unfolded. The characters have reached a point where what could be seen as a resolution only serves to cause more damage to the structure of their life.
Farhadi shows through his skillfully paced story that there are doors that open and close for people that aren’t that unique whether they are in a different time, date or place.
Cast: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babk Karimi, Mina Sadati, Farid Sajjadi Hosseini
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Rated PG-13 (mature thematic elements, brief bloody image)
Opens: Friday, April 14. Screenings at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m., Tower Theatre, 815 Olive Ave.