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It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and now its finally been released for all to enjoy. *Warning: this review contains spoilers.*

The Salesman ends backstage at a performance of Arthur Miller’s renowned play, Death of a Salesman. Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini) are receiving their make-up for their roles as Willy and Linda Loman.

Both in the play and out in the world, they are husband and wife. In this final scene, their make-up physically ages them before our eyes while a reflection of their surrender and emptiness lay behind their own. This accelerated decrepitude is a result of a devastating series of events which has caused this young marriage to reach the same terminal stage as their theatrical counterpart.

It begins when construction next door threatens the structural integrity of Rana and Emad’s apartment building. A view from a fractured window shows a digger scraping earth from the ground below them.

Later, when moving into their new flat, Emad discusses with a co-star the problem of construction in Tehran, wishing that they could tear it down and start again. This is the attitude he has to the violent attack his wife receives from a mystery intruder.

The new apartment’s previous owner was a prostitute, whose lingering presence is felt through her possessions which she fails to collect and her shady reputation amongst her neighbours. Rana’s assailant is believed to be one of the woman’s clients.

Like another recent Iranian export, Under the Shadow, the central characters are taken hostage by the malevolent forces that have been transferred to them and attached to their home. Rana becomes unable to stay in the flat by herself, wishing to find a new place to stay. Meanwhile, Emad is anxious for retribution and becomes determined to discover the man’s identity.

This is a harrowing film that relies on the talents of its actors

It is an eerie story in many ways, especially in terms of the female characters. The prostitute never once appears in the story, yet her presence is felt indirectly. In the play, a male co-star laughs at the absurdity of a prostitute coming out of the shower fully clothed.

It seems that a troubled woman is an anachronism in their society and has no justification. Unless they are a prostitute, it seems, the role of the other women in this film are left unstated unlike that of their husbands; it seems that only their husbands have any connection to society.

These are themes that writer and director Aghar Farhadi is keen to pick up on. He is already internationally renowned for his previous Oscar winning film, A Separation. Here, he applies the same naturalistic style, unfolding the story very deliberately.

Though, when this drama’s pitch is at its highest, the action reaches a serene intensity, though the inner screams of Rana and Emad are heard throughout the story. The primary outlet Rana and Emad have for their distress is during their rehearsals and performances which punctuate the plot.

This is a harrowing film that relies on the talents of its actors, not least Alidoosti and Hosseini. Their anguished gazes and expressions fill in the gaps which Farhadi’s intricate dialogue does not need to express. They pour emotion into the characters without a drop spilling over, letting these afflicted feelings ripple on the surface of their faces.

The damage to Rana and Emad’s first apartment extends to the characters themselves. In trying to restore the moral order of his home and his world, Emad does as much to sustain this frailty as Rana’s original ordeal, drawing the life out of the both of them in the end. The question as to how long their relationship will remain standing is left a mystery.

The Salesman opens at the Watershed on March 17th.


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