Big Screen Berkeley: ‘The Salesman’

If you’ve been reading this column on a regular basis, you already know I’m terrible at handicapping the Academy Awards. In case you’re new to Big Screen Berkeley, though, this just in: when it comes to Oscar predictions, I am really, really, jaw-droppingly awful. Random chance has a better record than I do.

My annual review of the Oscar-nominated short subjects will be coming next week, but while you anxiously await that particular exercise in futility and humiliation, here’s a prediction in which I have (ahem) 100% confidence. Forushande (The Salesman, opening at Landmark’s Albany Twin on Friday, February 3rd) will win the Best Foreign Language Film award next month, and if it doesn’t, well, what else is new.

If The Salesman’s pedigree as the latest film from acclaimed director Asghar Farhadi (whose masterful A Separation won the big prize in 2011) isn’t enough to assure victory, surely the current political atmosphere will help it coast to a landslide. AMPAS voters are never shy about sending a message, and this is a situation tailor-made for Hollywood liberals anxious to cock a snook at Donald Trump.

Prior to the imposition of our fascistic Muslim ban, (i.e., the prohibition of anyone entering the U.S. from seven countries, including Farhadi’s country, Iran) The Salesman was already making headlines: in addition to earning an Oscar nomination and awards at Cannes, star Taraneh Alidoosti had announced she would not attend the Academy Awards in protest of Trump’s blatant racism. Now, of course, she can’t attend even if she wanted to – and neither can director Farhadi.


Alidoosti plays Rana, an actress whose husband Emad (Shahab Hosseini) –  a high school literature instructor – is co-starring with her in a semipro production of Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’. With the couple’s apartment building literally crumbling around them, they’re compelled to leave their lodgings on short notice, and homelessness looms.

Luckily for Rana and Emad, fellow thespian Babak (Babak Karimi) has an apartment available, but there’s a catch: behind a locked door lie the possessions of the flat’s previous tenant, a woman rumored by neighbors to have been working as a prostitute. At some point she’s going to want her things back.

Shortly after moving in, Rana is attacked and injured by an intruder. Determined to identify and shame the assailant (who he suspects is a customer of the old tenant), Emad takes his inexpert detective skills to the streets of Tehran. Will sweet revenge be his?

Though a certain amount of suspense is built into this pursuit, The Salesman is drama first, thriller distant second. Farhadi is much more interested in examining Rana and Emad’s fraying relationship, which has suffered seemingly irrevocable damage in the wake of the assault.

Iranian films frequently subvert harsh government censorship by indulging in metaphor, and while it’s possible to suggest this is also the case here – Rana’s post-assault decision to become a shut-in could, perhaps, be considered a metaphorical comment on Iran’s less than liberal approach to women’s rights – it is not a particularly significant part of the story.


Instead, The Salesman offers a sharply drawn analysis of the moral complexity and fallibility of human beings – victims and perpetrators alike. Deeply intelligent and courageously humanistic, only the curse of John Seal can prevent it from winning on February 26th.