"The Salesman" (2016) by Asghar Farhadi

A powerful film which tells us the story of modern day Iran and the people living in it


Asghar Farhadi is known for portraying the delicate and the darkest issues of the society, in a subtle and simple way, and his latest film is no exception. "The Salesman"  received universal acclaim upon its release as it featured prominently in the leading film festivals. It won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in the 89th Academy Awards. The Salesman bagged two awards in the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, for Best Screenplay and Best Actor for Shahab Hosseini.

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Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini), a happily married couple who are stage actors currently work in a local production of Arthur Miller’s classic “Death of a salesman”, which deals with a man’s loss of identity and his continuous trouble to accept the change of his own self and of society. They are living a fairly comfortable life in the city of Tehran. One night, they are forced to wake up from their sleep by what seems like an earthquake. As the ground starts to shake uncontrollably, and cracks appears on the walls, they quickly evacuate the building, only to find out that that the tremor was caused by the nearby construction machine’s collision with their building. Nevertheless, this incident leaves the couple temporarily homeless, as they are forced to look for a new apartment in the city. In the process, they are helped by one of their colleague, Babak (Babak Karimi) to find a moderate apartment in the heart of the city, where the previous tenant has left many of her belongings. The couple gradually tries its best to adapt to the new surroundings, but they are struck a heavy blow as one day Rana gets assaulted by an intruder. It turns out that the flat’s previous tenant was a prostitute and the attacker was probably one of her clients. As Rana struggles to lead a normal life after the incident, an enraged Emad sets his sight on capturing the assailant.

What fascinates me about the Iranian films is the meticulous performances. The story line always tends to touch our soul as these films are all about the people with whom we can relate to. Asghar Farhadi is no stranger to presenting us with these kinds of wonderful films. Through his movies, he always portrays the image of modern Iranian society with utmost perfection. Through his minimalist approach, like using actual locations, simple yet effective lighting and camera work, he always prioritises the plot of his films and the message it sends to the audience. Farhadi tries to engage the audience with his unique ability to unfold a multilayered story line. In his Oscar winning film “The Separation” we experienced a perfect example of this by seeing the last scene of the film, which is left open for the viewers to interpret. We experience a similar situation in this film too.

"The Salesman" is a deep, dark depiction about the condition of assaults on women and the sensitive social norms that intertwines with it in the contemporary Iranian society. In this film, Rana stops Emad from going to  the police because they’ve just moved into the new apartment and this might create a negative impression on their new neighbours. Emad and Rana also lie about the incident to their colleagues, stating it as an accident instead of assault. The whole incident seems like a blow to Emad’s masculinity as he tends to blame himself for it. He becomes obsessed with finding the person. Farhadi expertly changes the course of the film from a family drama to a revenge thriller by using Emad’s gradually increasing impulsive decisions. They continue to act in the drama even after the incident, but it takes a toll in their life as later we see they can barely hold it together. Rana, who hurt her forehead in the incident, struggles to maintain a normal lifestyle, and along with Emad’s impulsive nature, the ever increasing lack of connections and misunderstandings results in a faltering marriage life. Their crumbling apartment showed at the beginning serves as a perfect metaphor in this situation. Though the film revolves around the life of the married couple, the mysterious woman remains omnipresent, even if we don’t see her once in the film; in fact we seem to feel her presence even more as the film progresses.


The censorship in Iran is hard to pin down. It has the potential to completely ruin a film. As Farhadi once stated in an interview that “The restrictions and censorship in Iran are a bit like the British weather: one day it’s sunny, the next day it’s raining. You just have to hope you walk out into the sunshine.” But he actually turns it into his own advantage this time, and more than once. Most notably, however, in the scene when Rana hears the bell ring and leaves the door open thinking it was her husband and goes to the bathroom. Farhadi expertly focuses on the open door for a few seconds and then in next shot we see Emad buying food from a grocery shop. The whole situation make it obvious to us that it wasn’t Emad who rang the bell. Later we discover that Rana was attacked by an intruder. Now, even if Farhadi wanted to,  he couldn’t show us the whole scene as it would’ve surely been censored. Instead the expert editing and pacing of the film keeps us on the edge of our seat. Now after watching the film we just can’t imagine the scene being anything else than the present one. It’s better off by not showing us the incident, like the director spared us from the brutality by cutting the scene at the right time. The beautifully paced script of Asghar Farhadi is brilliantly complemented by Hossein Jafarian and Hayedeh Safiyari respectively, for their cinematography and editing.

"The Salesman" manages to create a gloomy ambience by using mainly natural light sources and minimal lighting, yet it manages to be visually pleasing. The setting of the film is much like a theatre set as the apartment plays the role of the stage. The art direction, led by Edris Azizi has done a wonderful job here.

Another major aspect of Farhadi’s film is his using of the background score or the complete lack of it. He never uses the background scores in the film, and we only hear the theme music composed by Sattar Oraki towards the beginning and in the end. He prefers to keep it natural and realistic and it works well with the flow of the film. The sound department formed by Hossein Bashash and Yadolah Najafi as sound mixerd, Reza Narimizadeh as sound editor and Mohammad Reza Delpak as sound designer and mixer deserves all the credit for this.


Taraneh Alidoosti, an acclaimed actor, who actively works in TV shows and films, plays the character of Rana with ease. Her expressions are perfect. Playing the character of a woman who has been a victim of a brutal assault and who is finding it extremely difficult to live in a society that is very sensitive when it comes to issues related with woman, isn’t easy at all. But she pulls it off gracefully. Shahab Hosseini, a well known actor in his country perfectly portrays the character of a fragile husband, who, as the time passes,  loses his conscience and becomes completely obsessed with finding the person who assaulted his wife. His meticulous work hasn’t gone unnoticed by the critics as he won the Best Actor Award in the prestigious Cannes film festival. Though Alidoosti and Hosseini shares most of the screen time, the actors who are in supporting roles have also played their part effectively.

"The Salesman" is a powerful film which subtly tells us the story of modern day Iran and the people living in it. The film’s critical success is just, but despite its wonderful performances, mature direction and gripping plot it may not be considered as Farhadi's best as that title belongs to "The Separation," which won him his first Academy Award. However,  "The Salesman "has enough potential and uniqueness, as it definitely remains one of the standout films of 2016.


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Asian Film Vault: "The Salesman" (2016) by Asghar Farhadi
"The Salesman" (2016) by Asghar Farhadi
A powerful film which tells us the story of modern day Iran and the people living in it
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