Film: The Salesman

Cast: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini, Babak Karimi, Farid Sajjadi Hosseini, Mina Sadati, Mojtaba Pirzadeh,Emad Emami, Sam Valipour, Maral Bani Adam, Shirin Aghakashi, Mehdi Koushki, Sahra
Asadollahe, Ehteram Boroumand

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, helmer Farhadi skipped the Academy Awards ceremony and issued a statement criticizing the U.S. for bolting its gates to seven countries including his native Iran (while disregarding Iran’s treatment of human rights activists. And for that matter, certain appalling customs that degrade women. Scan the papers, print or online, gentle reader) Farhadi had won an Oscar for  “A Separation” in 2012 and in his new film, a married woman is molested in the shower (off-screen) and her husband seethes with rage and simmers with compassion. Thank goodness for small mercies.

The woman is, naturally, traumatised. Thank God she wasn’t raped. Unsurprisingly, the marriage comes under stress but Farhadi, like every other Iranian film-maker, doesn’t lay the blame where he should. On the mullahs and patriarchy. The principal characters are Emad Etesami (Shabab Hosseini and his beautiful wife Rana Taraneh Alidoosti) amateur actors who relocate from their home to a new apartment, which retains odds and ends from the previous tenant (a single woman who may have been a prostitute.)

The couple is playing the lead (Willy and Linda Loman) in a staging of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Then, in no time at all, the couple is bogged down in a domestic drama not of their choosing. Just like the Lomans. As in every other Iranian film I can think off, the villainous are treated with kid gloves. Asked why he behaved in a manner that was patently wrong, a pivotal character responds: “I was tempted.”

The blame, as is usual in Iranian cinema (and dare I say it, in Islamist societies) is on the woman. Woman is temptress (and must therefore be shrouded/controlled/disciplined). The man merely succumbs to temptation. He is never enjoined to self-control. So, while Iranian film-makers must be commended for making engaging films devoid of gratuitous sex and violence (doing the best they can under an oppressive theocracy) I can’t say “The Salesman” honestly explores the rocky ground of male-female relationships.