Many filmmakers work their entire lives and still never manage to find what separates them from other artists behind the camera. However, this certainly isn't a concern of Asghar Farhadi's, as he has established a narrative flow and visual signature that holds unique to him. The career-defining masterpiece A Separation was my introduction to the filmmaker, who then made the deeply impactful The Past a couple years later. His dissection of marriage is thought-provoking and powerful, which continues to be the case in his newest feature The Salesman. Despite being the weakest of the three mentioned films, it remains to be quite impressive.
Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are forced to find new living accommodations when their old building became inhabitable due to heavy structural damage. Once they're all moved in, they begin to realize that there was a lot more to the previous tenant of the property than initially thought. When Rana is home alone one night, she's attacked by a man who believes that she's the previous inhabitant and quickly flees. Emad and Rana's marriage is put to the test, as they begin to drift apart.
Ambiguity is a major factor that Farhadi utilizes to the best of his ability. The assault on Rana is never shown, and she cannot remember much about what took place. This adds a thriller element to the film that clearly places a wedge between the married couple. Emad wants to report the attack to the police and take vengeance, while Rana simply wants to move forward with her life. She's terrified of having to relive that moment in discussions with detectives, so she decides to live in a silent fear. Since the audience doesn't know what took place, the details are being revealed to us as Emad uncovers them. The Salesman is an emotional journey that will also keep you guessing as to what exactly took place that night, and how it will impact the lead characters that we have come to genuinely care for a great deal.
The entire film is set against the famous American play by the same title as the film. While its significance isn't obvious, it soon becomes clear that it mirrors the break in the marriage between Emad and Rana. Some audiences will find this to be a worthwhile addition to the film, while others will surely feel that this time could have been utilized in a more effective way. Nevertheless, Farhadi successfully plants seeds in our minds that nearly every plot point reflects upon the theme of invasion of privacy in our most vulnerable state. For example, Emad's students take pictures of him after he falls asleep in class after putting on a film for them to watch. His reaction is severe, as it becomes clear that the desire for vengeance is growing stronger. Most of these sequences are rather tremendous in their ability to display how this event has shaken both of their lives to the core, although others feel a bit contrived for a narrative sake.
Farhadi understands character and how to make this element the forefront of a film. However, this artist appears to have some difficulty with plot consistency. While it's never dull, there are some pacing problems that hold the film back. The third act suddenly transitions to a narrative focus, which feels out of place. The final fifteen minutes are a mixed bag, as it offers a powerful conclusion for the lead characters that fits Farhadi's style, but it has to go to some melodramatic places to get there. It's all a bit sloppy compared to what we have come to expect from this master filmmaker. Nevertheless, The Salesman takes us to some dark places, and is never to be taken lightly. This is a deep piece of filmmaking that handles assault in a way that is both delicate and impactful.
Outside of character crafting in the script stage, he certainly has an eye for talent. Shahab Hosseini is completely convincing as Emad. Even when he isn't speaking a single word of dialogue, the audience can feel that vengeance taking him over. He adds a significant impact to the feature that radiates off the screen. However, Taraneh Alidoosti is the real powerhouse here as Rana. After the assault, she becomes a recluse from all those around her, including her husband. Her dissipating trust in others is immensely impactful in this performance, as she even manages to massively improve upon the film's most melodramatic moments. The chemistry between the two lead actors is stellar, as they command the screen in ways that audiences rarely get the opportunity to see.
While it isn't the masterpiece that A Separation is, Farhadi continues to prove that he's a phenomenal filmmaker. He has some of the best use of character, as he always manages to take us to dramatic places that continue to shake us to our very core. However, he suffers from a sudden change in focus to an uneven narrative that comes across as being a bit melodramatic. He has established a rich couple of characters to focus on, only to abandon all that he has accomplished for a more clear plot. Even so, Farhadi concludes Emad and Rana's story with respect. Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti deliver spellbinding performances that are sure to floor audiences around the world. The Salesman isn't Asghar Farhadi's best work, but it's still strong filmmaking. Recommended.
The Salesman will be playing at AFI FEST 2016 presented by Audi on November 12th and November 13th.