The Salesman

Dir: Asghar Farhadi

An Iranian film that left me wondering if my take on it was a mistake. A teacher and his wife; the foundations of their apartment block are undermined (metaphor alert!) and they are forced to find a new flat, in which the wife suffers an injury/attack/assault from an intruder (Marabar Caves uncertainty) that leaves her with a head wound and great fear. They don’t go to the police – she left the door open expecting her husband, so her credibility and respectability will be questioned – and the husband tracks down the intruder. This is an elderly man with a heart condition; the husband wishes to punish him by telling the intruder’s family, but the wife pleads for forgiveness. Their difference remains unresolved when the old man dies of a heart attack. At the same time, the husband and wife are playing Willy and Linda Loman in an amateur production of “Death of a Salesman”, which adds another layer.

The reviews that I have read seem to see this as a tale of middle class hypocrisy and male pride. Yes, there is that, but I was more inclined to see a society where a woman cannot report a crime with confidence. Hence a middle-class teacher turns himself into a bungling vigilante rather than the state tracking down and objectively trying the old man (if indeed there was a crime: it is never made clear; at one point it seems possible that he raped the woman, but her forgiveness makes that uncertain). How am I to read her forgiveness? That the incident was not as bad as all that? Or that a woman should be forgiving so that a degenerate old man can keep the respect of his family . . . and perhaps do the same thing again?

Cultural differences too: there were no signs of affection between the husband and wife, even when they seemed content together. Was this because there were not really that fond of each other? Or is it the convention of Iranian film that there are no hugs or arms round shoulders? One thing is certain: the only physical touching was playing with children, men hitting men, or medical necessity.

So it was an interesting film, but somewhat unsatisfactory.

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