A revolutionary Farhadi screened in the straightforward ‘The Salesman’
Art and Experience: Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman” is being screened in Iran and keeps to attract many lovers of the Oscar-winning filmmaker.
Having won the best Screen Play Award_ which went to Farhadi_ and the Best Actor Award_ to Shahab Hosseini_ at the 69th Cannes Film Festival, the motion picture came as Iran’s record breaker on the first day of screening on Wednesday with a box office of $83,000 and an amazing $380,000 for the first three days of screening.
The plot, however, was a whole lot different than Farhadi’s previous work. It contained little of the hesitation and unanswered quizzes so much characteristic of “The Past” (Le passé in its original language French), “A Separation”, “Fireworks Wednesday”, or “About Elly”.
In all of these previous films, the story is left open with an undecided truth, a leeway for subjective judgment of characters, a 50-50 possibility of character change, or, as in the most idiosyncratic of the examples, “About Elly”, numerous questions like what happened to the protagonist or even a question as fundamental as what her real name was.
“The Salesman”, however, is quite straightforward. It lacks all the burden that used to be put on the audience’s shoulders. Farhadi may here be truly called “the salesman” who has come to sell with his simpler-to-follow, deliberately run-of-the-mill story, or yet better considered as just experimenting with new approaches for the sake of his own artistic pursuit.
Farhadi’s hero, Emad, pulls at the string until he finds the end, a surprise for Farhadi’s fans! The answer to the hero’s quest is a salesman that has trespassed on his household. Emad gives him such harsh punishment that leads to his death.
The story includes as play-within-play Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman”. Of the always equivocal Farhadi one expects to see some change for the better, some development upon Miller’s story. But this expectation is disappointed when the over-assertive hero finishes his crusade regardless of his wife Rana’s strong requests to pardon the old salesman for his sin.
Neither does Emad quiver seeing the culprit’s uninformed family stage an affectionate show of attachment to him, including a wife who’s loved and nurtured the salesman for 35 years and now rushes, despite old-age weakness, to see and embrace his partner who’s just short of a heatstroke.
All these are enough to arouse in Farhadi’s devout fans an inclination to end the story in a different way than Millers’, that is, without a death; to let the story remain silent at some point and, besides an open ending, win the prize for having had merci on a sinful, repentant soul.
Had the story been left there, there would have been some so Farhadiish riddle to the plot. The open ending then could have been interpreted as the result of Rana’s persistent demand that Emad desist from filing a suit, mentioning the story again, or exacting a punishment on the offender. Then, charges could have equally been directed at Rana as a meek betrayer of her husband. In that case, the salesman, whose only function is to toil to meet his loving family’s financial needs, would have turned out to be only an accessory to Rana.
But, unconventional in the case of Farhadi, the hero stretches himself so far as to lay everything flat and, after having the old man confessed to his ill intentions, strike a blow in his face that leads to his total moral destruction and death under a huge burden of shame.
For that matter, Farhadi has never been so straightforward and exacting. At least in his well-known, also prize-winning work, he has been a creator-cum-observer of possibilities and contingencies. Here, he is a man to know, to act, and to sell, even if it means dying to his own tradition.