You know how when you’re wanting to go to the movie theater and you look up all the films that are showing and there are alway at least three that you’ve never heard of, let alone have any interest in seeing? Well, good news! I’ve seen those movies. I spend most of my theater experiences in art house theaters watching those movies that you’ve never heard of and then never watch. Yeah, I’m that hipster asshole. My goal with this is to spread information out about these films, that way you can decide one of the following. “That actually sounds pretty cool! I want to see that now!” or “Man, I’m glad I decided to go see the new superhero movie!”. So without further ado, here is my article and review of The Salesman.
Asghar Farhadi is singlehandedly putting Iranian Cinema on the map. My film history teacher, who is one of the most knowledgeable film historians I’ve ever met, if not the most knowledgeable, told me that there is currently a film movement in Iran that is going to rival the French New Wave and will be studied as such once we get past it. I haven’t seen much Iranian Cinema, but of the two I’ve seen, I am very much willing to continue with this movement. The two Iranian films I’ve seen are this film, The Salesman, and Asghar Farhadi’s other well-known film A Separation. I can’t think of another Iranian Filmmaker, but my god, I will say that in due time Farhadi will be associated with Iran in the same way Jean-Luc Godard is associated with France, Federico Fellini is associated with Italy, and Andre Tarkovsky is associated with Russia. That is how far I think Farhadi is capable of achieving.
The Salesman follows a couple who after their previous apartment complex risks collapsing, quickly moves into a new apartment. The Salesman follows a similar first act as A Separation in the fact that the description of the film only really covers the first act, then the first act ends with this horrible situation that becomes the rest of the film. You might be thinking “But wait, isn’t that how first acts are supposed to work?” and I agree, that is kind of the definition of a first act. But I’m talking about how any description you read about the film will hold this plot device almost as if it’s a plot twist.
I will say that where I loved The Salesman, I think the first two acts of this film pale in comparison to A Separation. The first two acts of A Separation are completely beautiful because where it is a painful film to watch due to the situation, the acting and writing are done in such a way that it is so believable and shocking how realistic the dialogue is. In comparison, The Salesman’s first two acts are such a downer that it borders almost on Misery Porn. Don’t get me wrong, what happens at the end of the first act of The Salesman is horrible and would cause misery for the people involved. But The Salesman is missing that spectacular performances and writing that A Separation had.
That isn’t to discredit the writing and acting in The Salesman. Iran is producing some absolutely fantastic actors. Including Taraneh Alidoosti, in this film as wife and victim. Alidoosti gives one of the best female performances of the entire year and it is so subtle how she portrays this victim. The shock and recovery that the character goes through are done so well and so realistically. It never feels like a push or a performance. It just feels real. Shahab Hosseini, who won Best Actor at Cannes in 2016, was also fantastic as the husband. My only real gripe with Hosseini is that his performance might be so subtle that I didn’t really notice how good he was until the final act of the film.
And this is where The Salesman surpasses A Separation. Though the first two acts aren’t spectacular, the third act of this film is probably the best third act I’ve seen in cinema this year. Up until a certain character is introduced, I was thinking “Okay, let’s get on with it.” But once this character is introduced, it becomes almost a thriller. The third act of this film is so perfect that it completely makes up for any lackluster parts from earlier in the film. I loved it and just wanted every part of it to continue.
I honestly don’t know which I like better The Salesman or A Separation. Both are fantastic and worthy of being seen, especially if you want to jump into this new Iranian Film Movement, or just want to see Iranian Cinema. It’s a beautiful film that I can’t recommend enough. And Asghar Farhadi is one of the biggest names to watch right now if you aren’t watching him already.