Combustible Celluloid
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With: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti, Babak Karimi, Farid Sajadhosseini, Mina Sadati, Maral Bani Adam, Mehdi Koushki, Emad Emami, Shirin Aghakashi, Mojtaba Pirzadeh, Sahra Asadollahi, Ehteram Boroumand, Sam Valipour
Written by: Asghar Farhadi
Directed by: Asghar Farhadi
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements and a brief bloody image
Language: Persian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 125
Date: 01/27/2017

The Salesman (2016)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Miller Time

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I have written elsewhere about my overall distrust of director Asghar Farhadi (Fireworks Wednesday, About Elly, A Separation, and The Past), but basically it comes down to my own admiration for Iranian films in general, which I have been watching and writing about since the mid-1990s. Farhadi is the least interesting of all the Iranian directors I have seen, but he's also now the most successful in the West, with his films getting the official blessing of the Iranian government and becoming official Oscar submissions (he won for A Separation); I know it's kind of a fanboy reaction ("I knew all about this before you did, and success equals sellout..."), but I can't help myself. Though I very much liked his little-seen early film Fireworks Wednesday, I now watch his films with a guarded eye.

His new film The Salesman starts promisingly before it slips into awards-season heaviness and preaching. Shahab Hosseini plays Emad, who plays Willy Loman in a staged version of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, along with his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti). As the movie begins, they must evacuate their building as it starts to crumble around them. They find a new apartment, and, one evening, while Rana is alone and expecting Emad to return at any moment, she leaves the door open. She is attacked (offscreen) by a mysterious intruder and retreats into a world of inner suffering and torment. The movie turns sour as Emad loses patience with his wife, finds the attacker — an old man with a heart problem — and begins treating him with utmost cruelty. And then... that's about it. The movie never returns to the Miller motif, or the "crumbling" motif, and we're left thinking that maybe something profound has happened, but perhaps not exactly sure what. It's actually more of a soap opera, but without flourish, dreary and hopeless.

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