Films are one good media for taking the pulse of a society at a certain moment in time, for surfacing explicitly or implicitly its problems, for making it known beyond borders of countries or cultures. Iran is a country little and badly known in the world. We may read or listen a lot about its politicians and external conflicts, we know very little about the day-to-day life in the country, about the problems, feelings and dreams of its people. This is why films coming from Iran raise interest and those coming from a fine film-maker as Ashgar Farhadi are among the best.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5186714/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5186714/

 

Watching a film like The Salesman is an exercise not too different than the one we experience(d) when we are (were) watching in the 60s, 70s, 80s films coming from the Soviet Union, Poland, or other countries under Communist rule. It is important to watch what you see on screen to its most minuscule detail that can hide hints or symbols. It is even more important to think about what you cannot see on screen, which you know could not be said because of censorship, or maybe it was said and fell on the floor because of different types of pressure. This film is the story of a family drama triggered by the brutal attack on a married woman. She and her husband (both middle class intellectuals, amateur actors playing ‘Death of a Salesman’ in the evenings’) do not go to the police to put a complain because they know the system is corrupt and biased against the woman, rather then protecting her and trying to find and punish the criminal. We are in the Middle East however, and honor plays an important role, so the husband engages in a personal vendetta which has as a goal not necessarily vengeance but recovering the honor of the victim and exposing the attacker to the blame of his own family. The subtle insertion of theater in film hints to many other aspects that are rather implicit than explicit – the attraction to the Western culture, the cosmetic changes brought to the play, actors, costumes in order to make it acceptable to the Islamic religious norms.

 

(video source Amazon Studios)

 

There is another comparison to be made with another film that was a candidate this year at the Best Foreign Language Award at the Academy (which The Salesman won) - ‘s Elle. In both films we deal with aftermaths of brutal attacks on women – but what a difference between the attitude of the two women – and the reasons are clearly psychological and cultural.

The film-making style looks familiar to viewers who have been exposed to Middle East cinema. The story telling, some of the dialogues, the relations between the characters reminded me dome of the Israeli ‘burekas’ movies, with families and neighbors interaction, with the mix of comedy and melodrama. Director develops this approach much beyond its limits, aiming to reach a more international audience with the relation to Arthur Miller’s play. He is helped by the splendid acting of his two lead actors and  who both give expressive and discrete performances, full of controlled passion and dignity, which make the tough situations described on screen more easy to follow. I was less impressed by the final solution where life seems to follow its own rule and the characters lose voice in face of stronger forces. This sounded a little anti-climax and undecided. I will not say however more, in order to avoid telling too much about a film I do recommend to all viewers.