In this seventh film from Asghar Farhadi, the director continues to create films that are less of a portrait of Iran and the country’s culture and more so relatable to audiences internationally. We saw this in Farhadi’s prior film The Past, his first film not directed in Iran and in a language other than Persian. Prior to directing The Salesman, Farhadi was scheduled to shoot a Spanish language film featuring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem about a family of winemakers living in rural Spain. Farhadi postponed this project to direct The Salesman since he felt “nostalgic” about Iran.
With the grave plot of The Salesman, it’s hard to fathom how the film satisfies Farhadi’s nostalgia for shooting films in Iran, yet The Salesman is both set in Iran and relates to themes that are of utmost relevance internationally, following Farhadi’s recent trend in filmmaking. What we have in The Salesman is a film that relates to a troubled marriage (a Farhadi favorite), sexual assault, pride, and shame. The film comprehensively approaches the topic of sexual assault, detailing its immediate repercussions, the different ways characters respond to and cope following the attack, and hints at the long-term impact an attack holds on one’s marriage.
It would’ve been more logical for American producers to choose to remake this film for a Hollywood release rather than Toni Erdmann. Might I also mention it is miraculous that Farhadi has created The Salesman as a PG-13 film? It’s just begging for a Hollywood duplicate in the coming years. In light of all too many cases of sexual assault, American audiences would be passionate about a story such as The Salesman if it were a product of Hollywood.
Following the collapse of their apartment, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are forced to find a new apartment to live in. The couple act in a local production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and they receive the help of a fellow actor Babak (Babak Karimi) in finding their new apartment. When they move in, the tenant had not finished moving out yet. Her belongings are held in a room and there are children’s drawings on the walls.
One evening Rana buzzes in who she thinks is her husband into the apartment. When Emad returns home, he sees blood on the staircase and his wife is missing from the apartment. Rushing to the hospital, he is told to change the locks and discovers that his wife did not experience an accident- she was assaulted. He learns that the previous tenant of the apartment was a prostitute and that the intruder (Farid Sajadhosseini) was likely one of her clients.
Rana declines to have a police investigation, but Emad is unnerved and wishes to pursue her assailant. We quickly see that Rana wishes to forget the incident happened to her as soon as she can whereas Emad wants justice to be brought to the intruder. When returning to their apartment, Rana refuses to bathe in the bathroom and is cold to her husband. She brushes off any of Emad’s efforts to find the intruder and feigns innocence when moving the intruder’s abandoned van to the street (where it is quickly reclaimed) to prevent Emad from following a lead on the intruder. When Rana finds money in a drawer and uses it to buy ingredients for dinner, Emad is horrified because the intruder had left the money in a drawer and not him as Rana had thought. Emad had not told Rana of the money, wishing to shelter her from the repulsive fact, yet his well intentions result in the further straining of their relationship since Emad had withheld information from her.
The prostitute in The Salesman is never shown on-screen. Emad struggles with how to regard her due to the nature of her profession yet when he confronts Babak about not telling him of her profession before moving the couple into the apartment, Babak answers that he did not want to believe rumors about her. We consider the children’s drawings on the walls in her apartment. Could she have been prostituting herself in order to raise her child? Where is the father?
In an earlier scene, a woman is rude to Emad and he defends her after a person apologizes to him on the woman’s behalf. Emad claims that she was rude to him because a man had wronged her in the past. Emad is very supportive of women and wants Rana’s intruder to be brought to justice because of his crime against women, but he struggles to comprehend Rana’s response, a reaction that many women hold to acts of sexual violence, to the intrusion despite his best efforts.
Eventually Emad finds the intruder. The man is one of the salesmen in Farhadi’s film- he sells carpet using the van that was left behind at the apartment following the attack. We see the shame and guilt that the intruder shares with the play’s Willy Loman. We are compelled to think of the play when thinking of the intruder’s character and, as a result, we are faced to think about the love that the intruder’s family holds for him. They are ignorant of his solicitation of prostitutes yet our sympathy is somewhat drawn for him in tragic scenes that depict the utmost love and care his family holds for him, a horrible person.
Upon seeing their care, Rana promises Emad that she will have nothing to do with him if he tells the intruder’s family of his crime. She acknowledges that the person Emad found was indeed the intruder- he achieves his objective- and she achieves her own in regards to moving past the incident if Emad does not inform the intruder’s family of the crime.
The final scene of The Salesman presents ambiguity in that it forces us to consider the implications of the couple encountering the intruder. Yet in this scene the two are preparing for their play but do not speak. Has she forgiven her husband or has the show just gone on?