Monday, January 23, 2017

THE SALESMAN: Another Asghar Farhadi film, another disturbing, moving thought-provoker

What? They produce plays by Arthur Miller in modern-day Iran? It would seem so (even if the censors may have to delete a few lines here and there); at least, that is what we discover via the new film from Oscar-winner Asghar Farhadi (of A Separation and a flock of even better films). In his newest work, THE SALESMAN, our very attractive and hot young couple are performing the leading roles of Willy and Linda in Death of a Salesman.

Mr. Farhardi, shown at right, is a continuing master at offering up present-day Iran via its bourgeoisie and making the lives shown and problems explored look, to our eyes, remarkably like our own. Except in certain important cultural ways. (I was going to include the word "religious," but what we see seems so deeply ingrained as to have gone well past religion into the country's culture.) The husband here is also a school-teacher, and we see him (and how his mind works) in the classroom with his students, who seem to like and respect him.

One evening, post-performance, as the wife, home alone, is removing her stage make-up, the buzzer to the couple's apartment building rings. Expecting her husband, she buzzes him in, leaves their apartment door ajar and goes back to the bathroom. This will change their life.

From this point on, the movie, which has begun almost as a kind of critique of life in Iran, opens up into so much more. In the opening scene, the couple's original apartment building must be evacuated, as it appears to be literally breaking apart. Much of the city, it seems, has been rather poorly constructed.

Yet from the "event" onwards, the movie becomes a deeper, unsettling exploration of trust and betrayal, love, respect and, as seems true of all of Farhadi's films, a critique of his country's patriarchal/macho grounding, coupled to a look at slowly budding feminism.

The two leads are, as always in Farhadi's films, first-rate, with Shahab Hosseini (above, whom you might recognize as the nutcase hubby from A Separation) again doing a fine job as a man who slowly unravels in the course of events, and Taraneh Alidoosti (below, who played the title character in About Elly) doing an equally fine job as the wife who is "done wrong" not only by the event in question but by what happens afterward.

Farhadi's movie is part mystery, as solved by amateurs (who, for understandable cultural reasons, do not want to involve the police), and the filmmaker's handling of the sleuthing is expert: smart but not too smart, and very believable. Farhadi also, as is his wont, refuses to disclose all that has happened. But unlike some of what was withheld from us in A Separation, this adds to the situation's complexity, rather than seeming to be merely deliberate withholding on the filmmaker's part.

The result of all this quietly explodes into something much larger and more difficult that we (or this couple) could have expected. There is plenty of guilt to go around, along with a try for redemption. But the thirst for compensation/revenge is present, too. How the filmmaker weaves all this together makes for a spectacularly dense and slowly revealing conclusion that will have you feeling and understanding the viewpoint of every character present.

This is major filmmaking, and if Farhadi were to walk away with another Oscar, I would not be surprised. (His film is among the five nominees in the BFLF category). The Salesman forces you to re-consider your priorities: what you would finally allow or not allow, and how much damage you might be willing to inflict on another in order to satisfy your own sense of justice and/or need for revenge.

From Amazon Studios and the Cohen Media Group, in Persian with English subtitles and running a long but never boring 125 minutes, the movie opens this Friday, January 27, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal. Here in South Florida, it opens February 10 at the Tower Theater, Miami; the Movies of Delray and Lake Worth, and at the Regal Shadowood and Living Room Theaters in Boca Raton. To see the many playdates all across the country, with cities and theaters listed, simply click here and scroll down.

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