The Iranian writer-director of 'A Separation' returns with this smart, if limited, Tehran-set study of a marriage in trouble
The Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi won an Oscar for 2011's 'A Separation'. After making 2013's 'The Past' in Paris, he returns to Tehran for this charged, intelligent but not entirely satisfying drama about a youngish couple, Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini), whose relationship is put under severe strain while they're both performing in the same amateur production of Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman', he as Willy Loman and she as Linda, the wife of the flawed, tragic patriarch.
Farhadi echoes a certain stagey theatricality in his drama, too, which mainly unfolds in two spaces that feel alienating and reflective of a couple coming apart. The first is Rana and Emad's apartment in a shabby city block which they have to evacuate at the film's start when it starts to fall apart before their eyes. They then move into another flat owned by a friend. But there's unfinished business with the last tenant of this place, a woman whose stuff still litters the apartment and whose work as a prostitute causes an unwanted visitor to turn up, an intruder, kicking off a chain of increasingly melodramatic and not always plausible events.
Cracks in a building's structure; a bulldozer attacking the foundations. The symbolism is as pointed as the occasional cuts to the staging of Miller's play, used to underline the drama going on offstage. In the wake of the unwanted visit that leaves Rana physically and psychologically shaken, she starts to crumble and Emad, who we also see at work as a teacher, decides to step up to his protector role in a way that may destroy any respect and love his wife has left for him. It's a familiar approach: an invader throwing a spotlight on a relationship and allowing a dramatist to turn that relationship inside out, with some ugliness revealed. Male pride and shame and their destructive effects on the family is the theme. As drama, 'The Salesman' wanders, meanders and searches, mostly pleasurably, until it hits an over-engineered final chapter.