Like no one else making movies today, renowned Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has garnered an unprecedented reputation in the world of filmmaking, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest storytellers of our time. Having built a strong legacy over the past 10 years with one staggering masterpiece after another, Farhadi’s films are best known for their nuanced portraits of domestic lives that continuously challenge our morality by contemplating on social issues, especially class & gender, in a highly authentic & intricately human manner, and are often structured & paced in a way that grips the audience like a tense thriller.
Asghar Farhadi entered the world of feature filmmaking in the early years of the new millennium but what earned him a global fan following was his Academy Award-winning A Separation, which still ranks amongst the greatest works of 21st century cinema. But that 2011 family drama was neither his breakthrough film nor his first masterpiece, for before it came About Elly in 2009 and before that came Fireworks Wednesday in 2006, both just as enthralling as that Oscar-winning gem if not more. In 2013, The Past brought the esteemed filmmaker out of his comfort zone and yet, Farhadi managed to deliver another masterwork of first-rate storytelling.
And now, the revered auteur is back with his 7th feature film, The Salesman. The story concerns a young Iranian couple who work as lead performers at the local theatre and are rehearsing for their next gig, which is Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Forced to leave their collapsing apartment due to dangerous works on an adjacent building, they rent a new flat from one of their colleagues and settle down in a house that was previously occupied by a woman of ill-repute. A chain of events are set in motion when one of the clients of the former tenant pays a visit to the apartment one night, the aftermath of which turns their peaceful life upside down.
Written, co-produced & directed by the great Asghar Farhadi, The Salesman finds the acclaimed filmmaker returning to his roots after crafting his last picture in Parisian streets and happens to be his fifth consecutive masterpiece. The film bears all the hallmarks that transformed his past works into instant classics and is crafted with immaculate vision & precision control. Interweaving its complex themes & multi-layered structure into a single strand, Farhadi narrates the story like only a master storyteller can, and keeps a firm grip on pacing, which allows him to establish & gradually escalate the tension as per the requirements of the given scene or situation.
The script is just as refined as his direction, packing a believable set of characters whose well-defined arcs are then handled in a sensible fashion. Farhadi’s innate ability to bring nearly all characters to life with as much genuineness as possible plus the close proximity between their predicaments and its very possibility of happening in real life resonates on such a personal level with the viewers that it allows them to invest in these scripted people’s lives. The plot is dialogue-driven yet full of twists, and Farhadi places them at the right moments to heighten the emotional impact of those sequences and absolutely hits it out of the park in the film’s thoroughly engrossing & utterly devastating final act.
The technical aspects are expertly executed and work in near-perfect harmony to enhance the overall experience but does it so subtly that it never for once takes the focus away from the main plot or characters. Keeping distracting elements to a minimum, the aptly lit sets & locations provide an authentic environment for the events to unfold, and everything is further uplifted by the fluid movements & sharp focus of the camera. Editing is its strongest aspect as its 125 minutes of runtime is never felt and the drama only becomes more compelling with every passing moment, and is at its best during the final 10-15 minutes. And as is the case with Farhadi’s films, music is nearly absent from the entire picture.
Coming to the acting department, The Salesman features a terrific cast in Shahab Hosseini & Taraneh Alidoosti, playing the young couple whose union begins to turn sour after an unexpected tragedy. Marking a reunion of sorts, for Hosseini & Alidoosti previously collaborated with Farhadi in About Elly, the two deliver measured & lifelike performances in their given roles. Alidoosti expresses her character’s post-traumatic stress with finesse and is brilliant throughout the film. Hosseini, on the other hand, chips in with a deftly layered input and accurately exhibits his character’s inner rage. Also, the supporting cast is no slouch either, for everyone brings their A-game to the table, thus leaving nothing to complain about.
On an overall scale, The Salesman is an ingeniously directed, impeccably written, tightly edited, beautifully acted & extremely riveting piece of first-class cinema that unfolds with the charged tension of a great thriller, and culminates with a deeply upsetting, gut-wrenching & soul-shattering finale. Putting the audience’s morality to test by presenting a tragic battle between good & good, and evoking their empathy in the most unpredictable fashion, Asghar Farhadi’s latest is an emotionally absorbing domestic tragedy that’s sincere in its approach, elegant in its portrait & grounded in its execution, and is one of the best all-round films of its year. A tour-de-force of top-notch storytelling & top-tier acting that finds the assured artist in sublime form, this magnificent & haunting Persian gem comes very highly recommended.