Change And Backlash

Asghar Farhadi’s modern Iran is a work in progress

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

The Salesman
RPL Film Theatre
April 6–9

While recently departed director Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry) was celebrated for the lyricism of his work, fellow Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi deserves credit for best capturing the country’s modern quandaries. In Farhadi’s A Separation, it’s made clear one shouldn’t judge entire nations based on their crummy leaders.

The Salesman is less well-rounded than the filmmaker’s previous work, but it’s just as provocative. Emad, a teacher and actor, is forced to abandon his home when the shoddy building he lives in starts falling apart. The timing is terrible. Emad is staging Death of a Salesman alongside his spouse and a group of amateur actors.

Emad believes he has found a bargain when a friend offers him another apartment, but not even a couple of nights after moving in, his wife is attacked. A hunt for the perpetrator ensues, without the assistance of the police (too judgmental and tactless) or the traumatized victim.

It’s never explicitly said, but the film strongly hints the assault was sexual (there’s only so much you can get away with in Iranian cinema). Farhadi depicts a society unprepared to deal with sexual crimes, and men struggling to see women as their equals.

It’s not a coincidence the play in the periphery is the Arthur Miller classic: the figure of the emasculated, ineffective Willy Loman moves Emad to take justice in his own hands, with disastrous results.

The clash between secular and religious lives is rich, yet it’s not surprising we don’t get more films dealing with the subject. Farhadi handles the theme tactfully, digging into the inner lives of those involved. Way too many times the approach of choice is the “arranged marriage drama”, which tends to unfold in a similar fashion every time.

The Salesman won this year’s Best Foreign Feature Oscar. It’s worth mentioning Ashgar Farhadi didn’t attend the Academy Awards thanks to Trump’s on-again, off-again Muslim ban. See this with a fan of the Cheeto-in-chief, and watch their prejudices fall by the wayside.❧