Film Notes: The Salesman (2016), written and directed by Asghar Farhadi


IR –  FR / 125 min / Color / Memento Films Production, Asghar Farhadi Production with Arte France Cinema in association with Memento Films Distribution, Doha Film Institute, Arte France Dir: Asghar Farhadi Pro: Alexandre Mallet-Guy, Asghar Farhadi Scr: Asghar Farhadi Cin: Hossein Jafarian Mus: Sattar Oraki Cast: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti, Babak Karimi, Farid Sajjadihosseini, Mina Sadati, Maral Bani Adam, Mehdi Kooshki,Emad Emami, Shirin Aghakashi, Mojtaba Pirzadeh, Sahra Asadollahe, Ehteram Boroumand, Sam Valipour Synopsis: In the middle of the night, Emad and Rana are awoken by a grinding sound. Shortly thereafter they are evacuated from their apartment block, which is in danger of collapsing. The young couple soon find a new place to live, and everything seems fine. One odd thing, however, remains: despite several attempts to contact the previous tenant, she still has not picked up most of her possessions. One day, after waiting for her husband to return from work, Rana opens the door and is faced with a nasty surprise. The incident takes a sinister turn that will change Emad and Rana’s relationship forever. (Source: Cineuropa) Release Dates: 21 May 2016 (Cannes Film Festival), 31 August 2016 (Iran) 8 September 2016 (Toronto International Film Festival) 9 November 2016 (France) 3 March 2017 (Spain) (Original title: ‎‎ Forushandeh)  (Spanish title: ‎‎ El viajante) IMDb Rating: 8.2

The_SalesmanAward-winning director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) returns with the 2017 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner The Salesman, a characteristically taut drama exploring how unexpected cracks can form in the foundations of a seemingly happy marriage. The future looks promising for amateur actors Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) as they prepare for opening night on their production of Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’. However, when dangerous work on a neighbouring building forces the couple to leave their home and move into a new apartment, a case of mistaken identity sees a shocking and violent incident throw their lives into turmoil. What follows is a series of wrong turns that threaten to destroy their relationship irreparably. Winner of the Best Screenplay and Best Actor awards at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, Farhadi’s study on the potent power of pride, guilt and shame treads the line between arresting drama and revenge thriller with masterful ease. (Official website UK)

The poster for The Salesman (2016 film) art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist. By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50583921

Begoña and I had the opportunity of viewing The Salesman yesterday. The story revolves around the concepts  of love, friendship, trust, revenge and forgiveness. I very much liked the idea of a theatrical performance embedded within the storyline of the film. Overall I quite enjoyed  it, a pretty good film in my view, though it lacks some pace and has some unnecessary scenes that add nothing to the narrative. Nevertheless, the story is well-crafted and turns out to be interesting. The film was shot in Tehran,at the beginning of 2015.

The Hollywood Reporter film review

Variety film review

Asghar Farhadi on the Importance of Death of a Salesman in His New Film The Salesman (Source: Awards Daily)

Awards Daily: I liked that you explored the dark side of revenge in this film, and I also like the way you show the social divisions within Tehran. Can you expand on that a little bit?

Asghar Farhadi: Like every society, there are two very different classes. The middle class is the largest section of society, and that’s a good thing. This middle class that we see is also a young class. Historically, we’ve never had the middle class, and as such it’s a young phenomenon in our society. When I say middle class, I mean it’s a class that’s familiar with modernity who is grappling with creating harmony between tradition and modernity.

You’ll see it’s a class I’ve been focusing on in my last few films. I can’t divide society that clearly as they meld, but I can speak about the middle class.

AD: As the play is being staged, we see the police trying to censor it.

AF: What you see is the police telling them certain things they need to cut. In Iran, Death of A Salesman has been performed numerous times, and naturally, they’ve had to perform it with censorship.

The scenes where Willy goes to the hotel room with a woman, they have to perform it with a hijab. That’s why also in the film, we point this out.

I’ve never referred to these issues directly in my films. I’m not trying to make allusions to the system’s rules, but here the reference to the censorship is blended into the theme of the film itself. One aspect of the censorship is the claim they have that they want to maintain the society’s morals. In the story we can see, notwithstanding these limitations, moral turbulence exists. It would seem these limitations haven’t been very effective and they might have made things worse.

AD: How did you find your lead actors?

AF: I’ve worked with them before in my previous films. Once I started writing, I knew who I wanted as my lead actors. I knew their abilities well, and I knew they had it in them to play a different part to anything I had made them do before.

In my films, I always combine new actors who I’ve never worked with and old actors, but these two are two in whom I can place my trust, and at this point, we totally speak each other’s language. There are things they wouldn’t do as they know exactly what I’m looking for.

Once I had the summary, around three pages in, I knew who I wanted, so as I’m writing, I had spoken to them about wanting them to be involved, and also I wrote with them in mind.

AD: When you’re writing these rich characters, did you have a backstory for them or do you let the actors come up with something?

AF: I have one in mind for each of the characters you see. The actors go and build their own backstory, sometimes we end up discussing them, and sometimes they’re quite different. Where those differences don’t affect the character in any major way, I let that stand. Anywhere where it does change the character in any major way, I’ll ask them to change it.

I remember when I was talking to Taraneh Alidoosti, she asked, “Why doesn’t she live with her family?” In the story that I had in mind for her, this girl’s family lived in a different city. When I told her this, Taraneh said, “Now, I have to go and work differently on this character because she’s from the provinces.”

AD: I really loved what the cinematographer and the production designer achieved, for example, the window panes we see in the apartment.

AF: I had worked previously with both of them on several films. The thing that they watch out for after all this time is one real important thing, and that is to work in such a way is that they are invisible. What that means is that it shouldn’t appear that someone did the production design. That it should appear that it was just like this. The same goes for the cinematography, that it shouldn’t look like it had been worked at for hours.

Even when I’m writing the dialogue, I don’t want it to look like dialogue, that I want it to look like they were improvising.

AD: Which is what I was going to ask, was there much room for that?

AF: Actually, no. They improvised very little, sticking to the script. The most important thing was to make it look like they were improvising. Sometimes, they’d speak and I’d say, “This is not how it should be spoken.” They’d tell me it was what I had written, but my retort to that would be that they would have to say it as if I hadn’t written it.
They’d have to erase anything they had in mind about the dialogue and speak as if I hadn’t written it. I’d also ask them not to think about the meaning behind the lines, not to think about the plot, or the themes, and to just speak as if they were in daily life.

AD: One scene that stands out, is the assault scene that you juxtapose with the play. Deconstruct what we’re seeing.

AF: First, I had written this summary, and I understood that my two main characters were theater actors, and then I wondered what play they were working on. I read a lot of plays. I had gone back and re-read them and then I got to Death of A Salesman, and I felt it mirrored my story in a way. The themes were so similar, humiliation was central in both the play and my film. Towards the end of the film, we had this man and woman enter the story, and to me, that felt like Willy Loman and his wife.

Their relationship was almost the same as Willy and Linda, and they too had lived together for 35 years. The old man at the end seemed paternal, and this is true of Willy Loman in the play.

All of the conflict between Willy and his son is that his son has seen him at the hotel once. All through the story, the boy is trying to prove that his mother that his father has cheated. In our film too, Emad is trying to tell the wife of the old man that her husband has betrayed her.

AD: It actually made me want to revisit Death of A Salesman. Like you, I had read it in school.

AF: What really was attractive to me was that this man was playing Willy Loman on stage every night and attempting to make him understandable, and get an audience to empathize with him. In real life, he encounters this real life Willy Loman.

AD: Do you like to be ambiguous with the endings of your film?

AF: I feel that it’s more a case of another story beginning. I feel this is a film with one ending and two beginnings. A beginning at the start, and a beginning at the end of the film. It seems ambiguous because we have to build the rest in our own imagination.

AD: That’s why it sticks with you because long after it’s ended, you’re wondering about it.

AF: It’s as though the case remains open and helps you to think about the film.

AD: Have you started work on your next film?

AF: I’m working on it, and if it turns out well, I’ll be in Spain.

AD: Why Spain this time?

AF: The story would take us there, to that space and that space and environment are very close to our culture.

Asghar Farhadi was born in 1972 in Iran. He became interested in cinema in his teenage years and started his filmmaking education by joining the Youth Cinema Society of Esfahan in 1986 where he made 8mm and 16mm short films. He received his Bachelors in Theater from University of Tehran’s School of Dramatic Arts in 1998 and his Masters in Stage Direction from Tarbiat Modarres University a few years later. During these formative years, Farhadi made six shorts and two TV series for Iran’s National Broadcasting Corporation (IRIB) of which “A Tale of a City” is most noteworthy.

In 2001, he debuted in professional cinema by co-writing the script for Low Heights (2002) (Ertefae Past), a post-911 political farce chronicle of Southwest Iran, with famed war film director, Ebrahim Hatamikia. The film was met with both critical and public success. The following year, Farhadi made his directorial debut, Dancing in the Dust (2003) (Raghs dar Ghobar), about a man forced to divorce his wife and go hunting snakes in the desert in order to repay his debts to his in-laws. The film earned recognition at Fajr and Moscow International Film Festivals and a year later, Beautiful City (2004) (Shahr-e-Ziba), a grave work about a young man condemned to death at the age of sixteen, received awards from Fajr and Warsaw International Film Festivals. His third film, Fireworks Wednesday (2006) (Chaharshambe Soori), won the Gold Hugo at the 2006 Chicago International Film Festival. His fourth film, About Elly (2009) (Darbareye Elly) was called “a masterpiece” by film critic David Bordwell and won the Silver Bear for Best Director at 59th Berlin International Film Festival as well as Best Picture at Tribeca Film Festival. It was also Iran’s official submission for the Foreign Language Film competition of Academy Awards in 2009. His most recent film, A Separation (2011) (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin), became a sensation. It got critical acclaim inside and outside of Iran; Roger Ebert called it “the best picture of the year,” and it was awarded the Crystal Simorgh from Fajr Film Festival, Golden Bear and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury from Berlin International Film Festival, and also won Best Foreign Language Film from The Boston Society of Film Critics, Chicago and Los Angeles Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Circle, National Board of Review, Golden Globes, César Award, Independent Spirit Award, and ultimately the Academy Award in the ‘Best Foreign Language Film of the Year,’ making him the first Iranian filmmaker ever to win an Oscar. His Oscar acceptance speech at the 84th Academy Awards, a message of peace in tens political times in his country, made him an instant hero amongst Iranians. His film also received nomination for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award in the best ‘Film Not in the English Language’ category and for an Academy Award in the ‘Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen’ category. His 2013 film The Past (Gozašte), starring Bérénice Bejo and Tahar Rahim, competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Bejo won the Best Actress Award at Cannes for her performance in the film.His 2016 film The Salesman (Forushandeh), starring Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti, competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. The Salesman won two Awards: Best Actor for Shahab Hosseini and Best Screenplay for Farhadi. On 26 February 2017, he won his second Oscar for Best Foreign Film for The Salesman at the 89th Academy Awards. However, Farhadi did not attend the 89th Academy Awards ceremony in protest of Executive Order 13769.

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2 thoughts on “Film Notes: The Salesman (2016), written and directed by Asghar Farhadi

  1. Farhadi did not attend the 89th Academy Awards ceremony in protest of Executive Order 13769.

    Not, of course, that that nice Mr Trump agrees there’s anything racist about his racist travel ban.

    1. Thanks for your comment, John.
      It should be made clear that:
      Executive Order 13769 and the reaction to it show us America at its best and its worst. In its content, the order is pointlessly cruel. In its form it is amateurish: poorly-drafted, produced without consultation with the agencies charged with its enforcement and sprung upon them as a surprise. Even if it had been sensible, there were bound to be mistakes in implementation. In one, a five year old American boy was handcuffed and detained for hours, separated from his family. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, ignoring the American citizenship, justified the detention afterwards on the grounds that five-year old boys might well be security threats. “To assume that just because of someone’s age and gender that they don’t pose a threat,” said Spicer, “would be misguided and wrong.” In its letter announcing the firing of Sally Yates, the White House sounded like a five-year old itself. Yates was an “Obama administration appointee,” the White House said, who had “betrayed the Department of Justice” and was “weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.” All that was missing was the signature Trump epithet: loser. The Trump administration, thus far, is everything we feared: petty, vindictive, immature, incompetent, and unwilling to admit even its most obvious errors.
      (Source: http://www.fpri.org/article/2017/02/executive-order-13769-america-best-worst/)

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