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‘The Salesman’ is an intense drama that deals with contemporary issues

(Habib Majidi/IMDb)

The films of Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi deal with major moral and political themes that pertain to contemporary Iranian society, but also have a gravitas that speaks to the world at large. His most recent film, “The Salesman,” takes on the rights and trauma of female rape victims, male guilt and shame and the influence that fundamentalist Islam has over non-religious citizens throughout the Western-influenced capital city, Tehran.

In dealing with specific examples of greater moral issues within his films, Farhadi attempts to shed light on the layers of depth within Iranian society that from an American perspective are often clouded by the War on Terror-related hysteria that permeates most major news outlets.

The opening scene of “The Salesman” is a metaphor for the events that take place throughout the entire film. A husband and wife are sleeping in peace during the night, when their building suddenly begins to tremble. As the entire apartment complex shakes, the couple and neighboring residents are in a state of shock. They then all scramble about to hurriedly evacuate the apartment building before its inevitable crumbling.

The scene highlights the issue of infrastructural deficiencies in residences for urban middle to lower-class Iranians. More importantly, it is a foreboding metaphor, as the husband and wife who had been sleeping in bed peacefully would soon find their marriage being hit with a radical disturbance.

The married couple, Emad and Rana, play two theater actors currently starring in the production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” (hence the film’s title). The shows are going well and attracting sold out audiences, the cast seemingly gets along well, while Emad and Rana have found a new place to live. All seems to be right with their professional and personal lives.

This teased state of tranquility is often the case with Farhadi’s films. He realizes the importance of first establishing a foundation and sense of comfort for his audience, and then in a major moment shatters the pillars of that comfort, leaving both his film’s world and our earlier understanding of it in shambles.

One day, believing that the man who rang the doorbell was her husband, Rana erroneously allows a stranger into her home. This man follows her into the shower, knocks her unconscious and sexually assaults her. That tragic major moment in this film is one that is never shown, either to the audience or even Rana herself (as she can later only recall fragments of the events).

This decision is a calculated one from Farhadi, as he would like for us to experience the subsequent events of the film from the same perspective of its own protagonists, creating a level of tension and drama that rarely can be found in cinema today.

Throughout the film, Rana and her husband struggle with whether or not to inform the police. They decide that it is more sensible to try and move on from the matter, something which they find is psychologically impossible to do. In a country where the leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, recently claimed that gender equality is a western plot to corrupt the role of women in society as housewives, female rape victims are likely not going to attempt to seek much help through their government anytime soon. The central family of this film deals extensively with the consequences of this system.

Farhadi criticizes the rape culture in Iran through the subsequent events reflected in the film. Emad’s not being able to live with his wife’s post traumatic stress or the shame and guilt that he feels for having left her alone makes it his life’s mission to capture Rana’s rapist and make him pay for the wrong he did to his family.

In his craze to find the perpetrator, his relationship with his wife crumbles like the building in which they once slept in together. While male elitism will always hinder a society, excessive male pride has an equally strong ability of hindering the individual from understanding the right perspective.

The greatest artists are those who live in accordance with the principles underlying the art that they make. Farhadi is rightly among those in that category. At the 2017 Academy Awards, “The Salesman” won the award for Best Foreign Language picture, and Farhadi was not in attendance to receive the award. Farhadi could have been there, but in opposition to President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13769, he instead chose to send Anousheh Ansari and Firouz Naderi, an Iranian astronaut and engineer respectively, to accept the award on his behalf.

They read to the audience his statement: “My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of other nations whom have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the U.S.”

The moral standards reflected within Farhadi’s films, and those within his own life, are intertwined. He joins a list of major film personalities such as Marlon Brando, who sent a Native American activist to the stage to protest Hollywood’s mistreatment of Native Americans, and George C. Scott, who simply did not show up for his award for “Patton” claiming that, “The ceremonies are a two-hour meat parade…”

Art has an uncanny way of revealing the injustices of the world. Both Farhadi’s actions and films do just that.

William Plotnick can be reached at wplotnick@umass.edu.

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