Film director Asghar Farhadi returns to Teheran with another riveting moral tale and new inquiries into human behaviour. Aside from The Past (2013) which is set in France, his dramas all unfold in Iran and mostly in and around Teheran. And if the context for his fictions may be specific, the themes they explore have universal appeal. A Separation (2011), which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, played a huge acclaim internationally, which audiences relating to the pain caused by the disintegration of a family. To Farhadi, the human condition transcends all borders.
Farhadi's The Salesman, for which he was awarded Best Director prize at Cannes last year (Shahab Hosseini deservedly picked up Best Actor award), is a typically tense and supremely crafted study in mistaken identity, hypocrisy and the power of art to shine a light on our foibles and indiscretions. The main protagonists are a couple forced to move home as the result of a fissure in their residential block. They are both about to appear on stage in an as-yet-uncensored production of Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman'. The play's director offers them an empty apartment while they look for something more permanent. What he doesn't tell them is who used to live there and why a stranger should appear at the door when the husband is teaching literature to a class of mostly disinterested boys. What happens during the unexpected visit threatens the couple's peaceful existence and reverberates both on and off the theatre stage.
Farhadi's skilful melding of Miller's play and his own tale recalls Pedro Almodovar's deploying of Tennessee Williams' 'A Streetcar Named Desire' within the narrative of All About my Mother (1999). Both tease out the complex fabric of the play to examine the predicament the film's characters find themselves in. The role of censorship adds another layer in The Salesman. The play cannot be performed publicly without approval from the state censor, which taps into a wider malaise in Iranian society regarding openness that the film explores.