Art and Experience: “The Salesman” by Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (“A Separation”) has been announced as a late addition to the competition lineup at the upcoming Cannes Festival. Little is known about the Oscar winner’s Farsi-language drama, reportedly inspired to some degree by Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” except that it focuses, like so much of Farhadi’s work, around a couple’s fractious relationship.

Long-time Farhadi collaborators, Taraneh Alidoosti — who played the eponymous role in About Elly — and Shahab Hosseini — who appeared in Farhadi’s Berlin Golden Bear and Oscar-winning A Separation — co-star as the warring couple.

 

Farhadi, who last came to Cannes in 2013 with his The Past, seems to be specialising in marital rift. This writer saw A Separation thrice, and seemed never to get tired of it, primarily for two reasons. It is brilliant cinematically — profound performances, an unobtrusive camera and splendid editing that made one just sink into the lives of the characters. Two, Farhadi is so damn critical of Iranian society, but in such a covert way that the mullahs could not just figure it out. This is what one calls a punch that lands on your face, and you do not even see it coming or even perhaps feel the hurt. That is what masterful cinema is all about, saying all you want to, but in a controlled and dignified manner.

And Farhadi does this through a neat story whose dramatis personae seem to be tearing apart age-old beliefs and tradition without anybody even realising it. They appear to be writing with invisible ink, the letters waiting to emerge after a hot iron passes over them.

Farhadi’s tale of marital discord slips into the private chambers of a married couple, squabbling over their own future and that of their only daughter. In the film, the wife wants to divorce her husband, because he refuses to immigrate with her and their daughter to America. She says the little girl will have a bright future there, far away from Iran’s suffocating conservatism and religious animosity. He does not want to go, because his Alzheimer’s afflicted father needs his son, and more than him, his daughter-in-law. The couple’s daughter, aged 11 or 12, wants all of them, certainly her parents. And, when the wife leaves, the husband hires a maid, piously religiously and with a husband whose debtors are hounding him. Finally, when they all meet in court, they try taking refuge in lies and deceit.

Farhadi’s The Past is also beautifully written, crafted and acted out movie. The Past, much like A Separation is about family and children. Both paint wonderful portraits of how relationships among screwed-up adults affect children – and deeply.

Although The Past is not as intense or griping as A Separation, Farhadi’s Cannes player is nonetheless a disturbing picture of how modern families grow dysfunctional. What is also missing in The Past are the rather convoluted Iranian judicial, political and religious systems, for the film is set in Paris, unlike A Separation whose story unfolds in Tehran.