Iranian movies often have a contrarian poise while looking at tragedies. In Taste of Cherry, a dying man drives around the countryside searching for a person who will be paid to bury him the way he wanted. The Salesman draws on this school of quaint conformism and goes even deeper.
© Memento Films
The film is premised on the assault on a woman— a new tenant of a decrepit apartment she moved into with her teacher-husband in an Iranian city. Barring her, everyone is subdued in the aftermath of the attack; even eager, to move on. They all seem to agree on the gravity of the incident but are shown to take a collective sigh of relief that the worst didn’t happen. So the couple try to take it in their strides, hiding it from their colleagues at the drama club and readjusting their lives. In a sense, it harks back to an Eastern culture of solemnity in times of sorrow, that cares more about keeping up appearance than living the raw emotions. The absence of anger and outrage, though, is never absolute. It’s little more than a veneer to project normalcy. Underneath this shin, shame and jealousy, anger and remorse do churn ceaselessly. They come out when this people are left alone, unencumbered by the watchful eyes of society and demands of decorum. The film excels in exposing this process of slow burning descent to chaos. Doubts are raised about one another and simple things become suspects. The charming husband becomes a walking time bomb bidding for the ultimate trigger to explode.
It also questions our habit of faulting an attacker without hearing his side of the story. What if it was a case of mistaken identity? What if the victim’s carelessness allowed his entry in the first place? This dilemma was further complicated when we find that the attacker was an old man, sick of the heart and the head of a close-knit family. The film takes a U-turn and asks whether a temporary lapse of judgement, which he now accepts and regrets, deserves to be punished in front of his family. In seeking justice, it reminds us of the forgotten values of atonement and kindness which should rank above the crudeness of revenge.
This much-adored movie, beautifully captured in clean unsteady shots, is a study of sullen acceptance and profound humanism against the currents of shallow impulses, which often get the better of us.
The Salesman (2016)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Award: Academy Award For the Best Foreign Language Film (2017)