Instability in Asghar Farhadi’s ‘Salesman’

Photo courtesy of ||  Asghar Farhadi’s “Salesman” tells an unsettling story in a beautiful way but is not without its problems, writes Patience Kayira ’20.

Photo courtesy of || Asghar Farhadi’s “Salesman” tells an unsettling story in a beautiful way but is not without its problems, writes Patience Kayira ’20.

Patience Kayira ‘20
Assistant Arts Editor


Asghar Farhadi’s 2016 film “Salesman” tells a thought provoking story about a young married couple living in Tehran, which was shown last weekend by the Student Events Committee. Rana (Taraneh Alidootsi) and Emad (Shabaab Hosseini) are forced to evacuate their home once a construction mishap causes their apartment to become unlivable. 

Upon finding a new apartment, Rana is attacked by a stranger. Emad, then, dedicates himself to finding the perpetrator. “The Salesman,” a well-made film with beautiful actors and realistic dialogues, offers a discussion about gender roles, censorship and societal judgement. 

The film begins with a series of shouts and cries as people evacuate a glass surrounded apartment building. Emad presents himself as the humble hero by by warning his neighbors, ushering his wife out the building and carrying a catatonic man out of the apartment. 

Then, the scene changes to reveal the perpetrator: an out-of control excavator.

Drawing loosely from Arthur Miller’s 1949 play, “The Death of a Salesman,” the film operates as a play within a play. 

Rana and Emad are actors in a theatre company that is staging a production of “Death of a Salesman.” Knowledge of “The Death of a Salesman” is not necessary to understanding Farhadi’s film; however, knowing a brief summary may be helpful.

“Death of a Salesman” follows Willy Loman, a lower middle-class travelling salesman who is unhappy with his life. The play describes Willy’s broken relationships with his children and wife. 

The initial instability introduced in the opening scene persists throughout the film. 

When Rana and Emad arrive at their new apartment, they are greeted by a meowing cat. Charmed by the animal’s cuteness, both characters do not perceive the cat as a bad omen of what is to come. 

The assault that Rana suffers deepens the film’s mood of instability and discomfort. After the opening night of the performance, Emad returns to the apartment to find bloodstains on the stairs. He rushes to the hospital to find his wife unconscious with two doctors hovering over telling him in a pleasant voice, “Please wait outside.”

Earning a 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, “The Salesman” has generally reaped positive reviews. New York Times writer A. O. Scott writes, “The Salesman is about trust and honor, about violence against women in a patriarchal society, about the woe that is in marriage, but it is also about death, a salesman and the hidden brutality of class.”

While the film does offer a strong example of storytelling, its characters and pace are slightly problematic. 

The consistent use of shaky camera caused the movie’s pace to slow down. In a scene where Emad and Rana are driving quickly through the city, the constantly moving camera causes this scene to appear slow, despite their apparent speed. Perhaps such slowness of pace functioning as a metaphor for the difficulty both characters face in achieving their goal. 

Moreover, Emad’s inclination to be a problem-solver becomes increasingly irritating as he ignores Rana’s pleas for help. In a scene after the attack, Emad asks Rana to “Pull herself together.” She replies, asking, “Do you know what I’m going through?”

Emad’s need to be a hero causes Rana to take on a diminutive role. He becomes controlling and self-centered on seeking revenge as opposed to supporting his wife. 

Although it is not perfect, Farhadi’s “The Salesman” presents a realistic portrayal of people trying to make the best of a tragic situation.