For years promoting the U.S. releases of foreign films, again and again I heard them described as “quiet.” Quiet and compelling. Quiet and taut. Quiet and affecting. It’s no wonder so many worthy imports fail to reach a large audience. Who wants to spend two hours watching a lot of quietness – which is to say, a lot of nothing – on screen?
Which is why, even though it is in many ways, I will not describe Asghar Farhadi’s arresting new drama The Salesman as quiet. Yes, it employs more than one long stretch of dialogue-free action, and yes, the power of the film is in its nuances, the reaction shots and on-screen reveals rather than spit-fire dialogue. But what Farhadi has achieved (again) through this restrained approach is a poignant, timely and, odd as it may sound to an American audience about a film coming from Iran, a universal commentary on relationships – with each other, ourselves, our homes.
Emad and Rana perform together in a local theater troupe (currently presenting Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman), and when construction next door to their apartment threatens to topple their building as well, they find a new place through a fellow actor. The previous tenant has left a room full of her belongings, but their friend assures them she’ll return soon to get it all.
So Emad and Rana, an ordinary urban, middle-class couple by any definition, settle in to their new home despite the circumstances. As Rana prepares for a shower one evening, the door buzzes; expecting that it’s Emad, who’d stopped at the supermarket on his way home, she absentmindedly buzzes him in, leaving the front door open as she steps back into the bathroom.
A very real anxiety gripped me immediately, less than a third of the way into the story, confirming an indication of the tension ahead and the deft hand with which Farhadi would present it. As any single woman living alone can tell you, you NEVER buzz someone in without checking who it is first, even if you are expecting someone.
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