ⓘ The Salesman (2016 film)

The Salesman (2016 film)

ⓘ The Salesman (2016 film)

The Salesman is a 2016 drama film written and directed by Asghar Farhadi and starring Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini. It is about a married couple who perform Arthur Millers play Death of a Salesman on stage, when the wife is assaulted. Her husband attempts to determine the identity of the attacker, while she struggles to cope with post-trauma stress. Farhadi chose Millers play as his story within a story based on shared themes. A co-production between Iran and France, the film was shot in Tehran, beginning in 2015.

The film premiered in competition in the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, where it won two awards - Best Screenplay for Farhadi and Best Actor for Hosseini. The Salesman went on to receive more positive reviews, and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. However, Farhadi did not attend the 89th Academy Awards ceremony in protest of the U.S. Executive Order 13769.


1. Plot

Emad and Rana are a married couple who both work in the theatre, currently starring in a production of Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, with Emad portraying Willy Loman and Rana playing Linda. Emad is also a popular instructor at a local school, where the youth joke about him being a "salesman." One night, their apartment begins to collapse and they flee the building with the other residents. Desperate to find a place to live, their fellow actor Babak secures another apartment for them, where a woman has recently moved out, although she left in a hurry abandoning numerous belongings. One night, Rana is home alone and begins bathing. When Emad returns, he finds she is missing and the bathroom is covered with blood. He rushes to the hospital, where he is informed by his neighbours about his wifes condition and is told to change the apartments locks. It becomes apparent that Rana has not had an accident, but has been assaulted by an intruder. Emad also learns from neighbours that the previous tenant was a prostitute who had conflicts with her clients.

Rana returns home, but suffers from trauma and is reluctant to go to the police. She does not bathe, fearing to go into the bathroom again, and in the middle of a performance, breaks down in tears and leaves the stage. Although she does not remember the face of her attacker, Emad finds the culprit left his car keys, which he matches to a pick-up parked outside. The attacker also left behind a mobile phone and money which Rana purchased groceries with, thinking Emad had left it for her. Emad increasingly blames Babak for hiding the truth about the former tenant. After he hears a loving message from Babak on the previous tenants answering machine, he calls Babaks character Charley a degenerate in the midst of a performance, although this is not in Millers script.

Finally, Emad turns to one of his students, whose father used to work in the police. He is able to trace the truck to a man named Majid. He pretends to need a mover to lure Majid to their now empty old apartment, but Majids prospective father-in-law arrives instead. Gradually, it becomes apparent the older man was himself the intruder, though he denies attacking Rana, implying he simply startled her. Emad calls the old mans family to the apartment, and locks him in a small room to wait, intending to reveal his true character to them all. When he opens the room the old man appears to be having heart trouble and Emad calls Rana in a panic. When Rana learns what Emad intends, she says it will be over between them if he pursues his revenge.

When the family arrives they believe they have been called to a medical emergency, thanking Emad for saving his life. Just before they leave, Emad insists on settling his account with the old man in private, returning the money he had left after Ranas assault. Unseen by the family, Emad slaps the old man, who then collapses as he is leaving with his family, and they call an ambulance. Rana and Emad return to the theatre together.


2.1. Production Development

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi said he had conceived of much of the story for The Salesman years before production, but did not feel there was enough to make a film until he decided his protagonists should be stage actors. Part of this decision owed to Farhadis own background in the theatre, and his desire to re-immerse himself in that atmosphere. He also felt actors had to think of themselves as other people and create empathy, and his male protagonist would be forced to feel empathy for another man.

Looking for a play within the film, Farhadi researched the work of Jean-Paul Sartre and Henrik Ibsen before finding Arthur Millers Death of a Salesman, which he described as "a gift for me". In Millers play and his script, Farhadi said he found parallel themes of "humiliation", and also compared the relationship between his characters Rana and Emad to that of Linda and Willy Loman. More symbolism was added with the crumbling buildings, which Farhadi said represented crumbling relationships.


2.2. Production Filming

Although he was planning to film a Spanish language-project abroad, Farhadi opted to delay it to return to Tehran to make The Salesman in 2015. He cast Shahab Hosseini in the lead role, marking the third collaboration between the actor and director. Farhadi praised Hosseini for crafting diverse characters.

Other actors from Farhadis 2011 film A Separation are featured, and he explained the connection was because his films are about young couples. The final scene was shot to appear very theatrical, with lighting from lamps.


3. Release

The film premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, included in the In Competition section. The film opened in Iran on 31 August, beginning in Tehran at an unconventionally early time of 6:45 a.m. It was also selected to play at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2016, marking its first screening in North America. By 3 December, it grossed $4.2 million in Iran, the highest of any Iranian film to date.

The film premiered in London on 26 February 2017, with a free screening hosted by Mayor Sadiq Khan at Trafalgar Square. A general U.K. release followed on 17 March. Abramorama and Seattles Northwest Film Forum made plans for a film series called The Seventh Art Stand, with screenings across the U.S. for May 2017, featuring The Salesman and other films from countries affected by the White Houses second attempted travel ban, Executive Order 13780.


4.1. Reception Critical response

The film received critical acclaim. It holds a 96% "fresh" rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 183 reviews with a weighted average score of 8/10. The websites critical consensus reads, The Salesman takes an ambitiously complex look at thought-provoking themes, and the well-acted results prove another consistently absorbing entry in writer-director Asghar Farhadis distinguished filmography." On Metacritic, it holds an 85/100 rating, based on 36 reviews from critics, indicating "universal acclaim".

After its Cannes screening, Owen Gleiberman wrote in Variety that, following Farhadis A Separation and The Past, The Salesman "is another finely cut gem of neorealist suspense." Donald Clarkes review from The Irish Times stated that "The latest from Asghar Farhadi sees another family put under stress after a violent attack." Deborah Young in The Hollywood Reporter summarized the film as "Masterful particularly in the finale, but not so readily engaging." Time Out critic Dave Calhoun gave the film three of five stars, dissatisfied with the ending.

The film was supported by Iranian social media users, and after its screening and two awards at Cannes, some government officials and politicians congratulated Farhadi. However, conservatives accused the film of Siahnamayi disparaging Iran.

In The New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote it was not initially clear why Death of a Salesman was selected, but Willy Lomans presence soon became felt, and favourably compared the use of the play to All About My Mother s use of A Streetcar Named Desire. Peter Travers gave the film three and a half stars in Rolling Stone, praising it as "a dazzling, darkly funny, quietly devastating human drama." Entertainment Weekly gave it an A, with Joe McGovern writing the end had great impact. In The Globe and Mail, Kate Taylor gave it four stars, assessing the film as a subtle work with multiple dimensions. Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote in the Chicago Reader that the film was intense, comparing Farhadi to Elia Kazan. Conversely, Bilge Ebiri of LA Weekly wrote that, while Farhadi was talented in intensity and drama, this effort was artificial. The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw gave it three stars out of five, assessing it as one of Farhadis lesser films, "potent" but derivative. For The Independent, Geoffrey Macnab gave it four stars, praising Hosseini and Alidoostis performances. Charlotte OSullivan gave it three stars out of five in the London Evening Standard, faulting the screenplay for lack of subtlety.


4.2. Reception Accolades

At Cannes, Shahab Hosseini won the award for Best Actor and Asghar Farhadi won the award for Best Screenplay. It also won the unofficial "Palme de Whiskers" in recognition of a featured cat, "Mrow, the Tehran street cat". The film was the Iranian submission for Best Foreign Language Film, winning the Oscar at the 89th Academy Awards, marking Farhadis second win after A Separation. The Persian playwright and filmmaker, Bahram Beyzai congratulated Farhadi on his Academy Award in a voice message played in public by Hayedeh Safiyari, the editor of the film.


5. Academy Awards boycott

Following United States President Donald Trumps order which blocked entry of citizens from Iran and six other Muslim-majority countries to the U.S., on 26 January 2017 Alidoosti tweeted that she would boycott the Academy Awards in protest at the "racist" ban.

On 29 January, Farhadi wrote to The New York Times that he originally planned to attend the ceremony and draw the medias attention to "the unjust circumstances", believing the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would share his moderate position. He also compared the ban to the rhetoric of hardliners in Iran. On 30 January, Australian director George Miller supported Asghar Farhadis decision, saying that "irrational craziness" is "affecting the United States and the rest of the world.", and some of Britains filmmakers wrote a letter organized by Mark Donne to Hugh Grosvenor, 7th Duke of Westminster, for permission to hold an outdoor screening of The Salesman in Londons Grosvenor Square "directly opposite the United States embassy building" on the night of the Academy Awards Ceremony. When that plan floundered, Lily Cole, who was another signatory, brought in Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London. Khan offered to Trafalgar Square for a free screening.

On 3 February, La Land director Damien Chazelle backed and praised Asghar Farhadi when he gave an acceptance speech for winning the top prize of Directors Guild of America Awards. Chazelle said that excluding filmmakers was "anti-art". On 19 February, United Talent Agencys head, Jeremy Zimmer, announced that UTAs annual Oscars party was cancelled and a protest rally would be held instead.

On 24 February, Farhadi announced that Anousheh Ansari, known as the first female space tourist, and Firouz Naderi, a former director of Solar System Exploration at NASA – would represent him at the Oscars ceremony. The night of the Oscar ceremony, 26 February, as the film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Anousheh Ansari took to the stage to read from a prepared statement Farhadi had written which said in part "My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the US."

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