The Salesman, written and directed by, Asghar Farhadi, is another absolutely engrossing, yet simply made film. Real feeling characters who are full of the intricacies that make them wholly engaging to watch. A story that is slowly fed to you so that you can better understand and settle into both its inner workings and the people who make up its various parts, and an overall simplicity that means the necessities of the film get all the attention. Farhadi as both a writer and a director is someone who understands how to tell engaging stories and how to fill those stories with people who are fascinating and layered. I could go on rambling, but I’m eager to finish up this intro and get onto the full review, because I have much to say about this film, so let’s get to it.
Emad and Rana Etesami – played by Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti – are a couple who are currently performing in the play, ‘The Death of a Salesman’, while also dealing with the normal struggles of life; day jobs, having to find a new place to live etc. But their everyday lives are shaken when Rana is assaulted in their home by a stranger. Emad is consumed by revenge, but with everyday tasks that need tending to and a wife that is struggling to cope; things are only going to get worse, before they get better.
This is the third films directed by Asghar Farhadi that I’ve seen (‘The Past’ and ‘A Separation’ being the others) and what is always apparent is just how competent and detailed, Farhadi is in telling an engrossing story, filled with rich, deep characters. His ability to shine a light on people; have them feel real and full of many layers and then also put them into a story that is slow to build, but never loses your attention is something, I personally think he is unparalleled in doing. There is a genuineness to his films; to his characters and to the story they exist within. And that genuineness is what I think makes watching Mr Farhadi’s films such an involving task – one that I have never been disappointed in doing.
The Salesman is no different. It’s incredible how effortlessly and quickly, Farhadi is able pull you into the lives of people and their stories. His films aren’t even that quick in how they are presented or executed. Things take as much time as they need and it is up to you to make sure you are paying attention and picking up on all the little necessary details. But if you do, you are rewarded with people and with situations that are just simply fascinating to watch.
It is because of how delicate and deliberate the film is with its time that I think this film works so well. With how things are spread out, it means you have plenty of time to get to know the main characters and understand the structures of their lives. Before any of the primary plot has occurred (the catalyst that sets the film on its main path, narrative wise) you are given the simple lives of, Rana and Emad. It’s in that time that you can begin to form a connection with them and begin to settle into the lives of these people. It’s the way that I liked to experience a film. Nothing is rushed; there isn’t an immediacy to the plot that then cripples the characters and their development. Everything is structured and presented in a way that all the pieces play a part in making sure all aspects of the films are served correctly and have a satisfying level of engagement to them.
That means that nothing feels wasteful. Each scene is purposeful – even if it is just a character doing some busy work around the house, there is still a purpose behind it – it’s up to you to make sure you’re paying attention and taking in what that information might be. It also helps to add to the honest feel that the film exudes, as characters aren’t a part of some crazy or exciting thing in every scene. Sometimes they’re just going with the motions and tending to the menial tasks that everyone has to deal with. Now that may sound boring (it isn’t), but it’s all in service of the characters and the story. It all builds into making them people first, and later on when things escalate, your connection to them will be even stronger, thus your experience will be all the more emotional.
And so with the film taking its time, it means that the minutiae’s of the characters; the little individual traits that make them up and the finer details of the story, all feel that more important and resonant. The slow, unfolding nature of the story and how it grows into something larger and more intensive, leads into having a much greater impact that then echoes throughout the rest of the film and makes for something that feels even more potent and something you don’t ever want to divert your attention away from. I was utterly glued to every moment of this film – even the seemingly small, insignificant ones.
And forever at the forefront of the film are, Rana and Emad. Performance wise, they are faultless in their ability to become these people and then grow as them. And then as characters, they are people who are easy to relate to, and enjoyable to follow along. I quickly grew like them and by the end of the film had what felt like a deep connection to them, which went onto make the later developments in the plot even more harrowing to watch. I was left emotionally drained by the end of the film and so much of that was because of how much I had grown to care for the two people at the centre of the film.
And so the simple start to the film and the inevitable escalation in events meant that the latter half of the film felt all the more intense. I remember that when the film got to its climactic moment, my heart was racing and I almost wanted to hide behind my hands, as I was so worried about the occurring events and the outcome of them.
The reason I think I was so intensely watching the film at the end is because Farhadi as a writer is not one who shies away from the difficult questions/moments in life. Similar to the other films I’ve seen of his, there is no clear delineation between who is right and who is wrong. You are shown some morally questionable moments and within those moments are people who you have been with for the entire film. This meant that I was unsure of how to think about what was happening. On the one hand, I knew some of the actions being done were wrong and should be stopped, but on the other hand, I had become connected to the films leads and I felt they deserved some level of recompense for what had happened to them.
This is what I like about Asghar Farhadi’s storytelling, is that he challenges you. He presents questions within situations and he doesn’t simply give you the right answer. You are not told how to think and sometimes the people who you have been watching, supporting and connecting with will make decisions that you completely disagree with. What it all does is make you feel like more than an observer; in those moments you feel like a participant. I only wish I could have spoken to the characters directly in those moments and tried to stop them from what they were doing.
It is, as I’ve said a few times now, engrossing – it is engrossing to the fullest extent. I was completely involved in the film and even wanted to be a part of the character’s lives so that I could have a say – that is how much I was invested in, The Salesman. In the end, I wasn’t left with things being wrapped up in a neat little bow of satisfying conclusions. Both the characters and I were left to think about… to ponder what had happened and how it would now change things. And so just like how you popped into the characters life at a particular time, you then leave it to continue on its path without you. It is the height of engagement and it is why I love watching Asghar Farhadi’s films so much!
But, Mr Farhadi is more than just a good storyteller; he is also a talented director. Much like his way of telling you a story (simple but with meaningful details) he directs his films in a way that is not overly complicated or showy. Everything is executed in a way that means the story and the characters go first. There are no flashy camera tricks or fancy shots, it is about the story and that is what the focus is on. Now I’m completely happy with a director wanting to express through memorable imagery or interestingly shot scenes – I fully support and like that, in fact. But for Farhadi and his films it works best when he doesn’t do that. The beauty of his films is found in its simplicities, in its human moments.
The Salesman is pure and simple cinema; it does not complicate or distract from what it deems to be important and so it fully achieves on what it does deem to be important; its characters and its story.
I will absolutely be recommending, The Salesman; simple, beautiful and wholly engrossing. Need I say anything more?
I’d love to know what you thought of the film and what you thought of my review. So please feel free to leave any opinions, feedback etc. in the comments down below. Also, if you’re interested, may I suggest following my blog directly and following me over on Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. That way you’ll always know when I post something new. Thank you so much for reading my review and if you made it to this point, then you’re one of my favourites, but don’t let the others know.