In his 2012 film A Separation, Asghar Farhadi created a gripping and deeply affecting study of how a family unit can disintegrate within Iran’s socially conservative culture. It won great acclaim for the realism and sensitivity it brought to bear on complex issues such as honour, familial responsibility and the moral requirements of religion. The Salesman revisits the same territory – completing a trilogy of films that examine the ethical and emotional strains of family life.
Emad (Shahab Hosseini) is a school teacher who enjoys an easy, winning relationship with his teenage pupils. They even like him enough to want to see the play he’s starring in, alongside his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), in his secondary career as an actor: The Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. When structural damage means Emad and Rana have to move out of their home, a fellow cast member helps them to find a temporary apartment, but neglects to tell them that the previous occupant was a sex worker who had issues with some of her clients.
These inauspicious circumstances set events into motion that put a considerable strain on Emad and Rana’s relationship, with their emotional struggles beginning to mirror some of the themes of the play they star in every night. The Salesman shows the same skilled direction and sense of psychological nuance that made A Separation such a significant global success.
It’s a tense and unpredictable drama only slightly let down by its play within a play contrivance occasionally feeling hackneyed (the ending too stumbles awkwardly between anti-climax and melodrama). The film doesn’t make antic hay with its meta-fictional leanings – it takes a soft and dignified approach, but one that reveals the director’s utmost respect for theatrical craft and makes sense of his talent for bringing together such a fine cast of actors.