The Salesman

Mar 1, 2017

Deserves Oscar for Best Foreign Language film.

The Salesman

Image courtesy of IMDb.

Grade: A

Director: Asghar Farhadi (A Separation)

Screenplay: Farhadi

Cast: Taraneh Alidoosti (About Elly), Shahab Hosseini (A Separation)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 2 hr 5 min

by John DeSando

Mixing Hitchcock  for suspense and Ibsen for realism, writer/director Asghar Farhadi takes his own spin on those masters to create a psychological thriller that is as much about domestic unrest as it is about who broke into the home and brutalized Emad’s ( Shahab Hosseini) wife, Rana (Taraneh Aldoosti).

Although Emad is obsessed with finding the intruder, Rana seems to be ambivalent and uncertain how to proceed given the many subtle ramifications around truth. The story, mesmerizing in its little twists and turns, eventually turns on discovery and the tyranny of revenge (ask Othello about that one).Yet the pace is deadly slow:

Student: “How do people turn to cows?”

Emad: “Gradually!”

Unobtrusive direction is the key to this Foreign Language Oscar winner,  whose slow distribution and character revelation could go on without those reveals. But not Emad, who pursues truth like a Greek tragedian, slowly realizing his steps are jeopardizing everyone involved, even the perp. The infamous Iranian spirit of honor is present in a barely hidden form.

Farhadi’s sets are as tight as his frames, suggesting imprisonment when liberation would seem to be the goal. Farhadi has also framed the story with the husband and wife performing in Death of a Salesman; why Willy is Emad becomes clear at the end.

The Salesman is rich in simple but powerful story, first-rate directing, and allegory waiting to be found.  Although it seems Iran’s social unrest could be the subject, the broader humanity of going where one should not go and forgiving when it is not obvious why are also prominent. Add to those the figurative trope of leaving well enough alone when exploring someone close, like a wife, rings true for those who have discovered truth may not set them free.

"Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift / As meditation or the thoughts of love, / May sweep to my revenge" (Hamlet,1.5.29-31).

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at