Iranian whodunit unravels slowly to climax by Richard Jones

A look at The Salesman

SalesmanIRANIAN writer-director Asghar Farhadi is something of an icon to lovers of slow burning family and marriage relationships and breakdowns.

After 2011’s The Separation which brought him to international attention and his first Oscar, Farhadi’s third movie is another centring on family tensions.

School teacher and actor Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) have to move out of their Tehran apartment, damaged during an earthquake.

Nobody is injured but it’s deemed wise to move.

A friend and fellow cast member in their amateur theatre company, which is staging Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman, has a solution for Emad and Rana.

Babak (Babak Karimi) offers them an apartment which he owns in a nearby suburb. But on inspection Emad and Rana find one room locked with the former tenant’s possessions still inside.

Now we know because of Farhadi’s style there’s going to be something ticking away — not an explosive device, more like a small metaphorical time bomb — inside that locked room.

So because they have little choice Emad and Rana move in. One night when she’s alone in the new apartment Rana answers the downstairs security beeper, thinking it’s Emad coming home with the shopping.

She clicks open her front door and goes into the shower. It’s only when Emad eventually arrives home that he finds his wife unconscious on the bathroom floor, bleeding profusely from a head wound.

Emad’s sole mission now is to track down the perpetrator of this home invasion and makes it his top priority.

Having found an abandoned van, and its keys, close to their new apartment he enlists the aid of some of his secondary school students.

One of them has a father who used to work in the police department’s traffic control branch so Emad asks him to trace the owner. He’ll be able to use the vehicle’s registration plates as the primary information source.

Gradually Emad gets closer to where the vehicle owner works even after someone with a spare set of keys arrives and takes the van home from the spot where it had been parked overnight.

Farhadi carries us along to his slow-burning climax. If we suspect Babak as the bathroom attacker gradually we start to rule him out.

And after the new apartment’s locked room is finally forced open and we discover that the previous tenant could have been “a lady of the night” all sorts of other suspects float into our consciousness.

There are no feelgood conclusions to Farhadi’s movies. Nonetheless the final truth and its consequences in this one are eventually worked out even if Rana and Emad differ about how to resolve the mystery.

The Salesman won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony.

But I felt Farhadi’s film of six years back – A Separation – was a far superior slow-burner than this one.


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