When Asghar Farhadi’s 2011 film A Separation became the first Iranian film to win a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and subsequently became and arthouse hit in America, it both served as a reminder that Iran remains a home to a vital filmmaking scene and alerted the rest of the world to the emergence of one of that scene’s most exciting talents. Directed with slow-boiling intensity, the film explores the fissure between a married couple whose union seems to have arrived at an irresolvable crisis. Detail by detail, Farhadi revealed it as a situation with no heroes and no villains, one in which no one’s entirely right, everyone’s a little bit wrong, and recognizing this will do nothing to resolve the problem.
This sort of complex, gripping study of the fissures that split people apart — as his subsequent film, The Past confirmed — is what Farhadi does best, and he does it better than just about anyone. Farhadi’s latest, The Salesman, which just earned its own Best Foreign Language Film nomination, is no exception, depicting the way a crisis, and one character’s inability to cope with it, pushes a seemingly perfect marriage to the breaking point.
The marriage belongs to Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Tareneh Alidoosti). Emad teaches high school literature where his easygoing style ingratiates him to his students. By night, he acts in theatrical productions, joined by Emad, who, as the film begins, is currently co-starring alongside him in a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. (The film’s memorable images include an actress playing Willy Loman’s just-out-of-the-shower mistress dressed in a full raincoat and a turtleneck, to comply with censor’s codes.) But though the film opens with Emad and Rana’s home almost literally falling apart, the real threat to their relationship comes later.