In A Separation, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of 2012 (Farhadi earned an Original Screenplay nomination as well), a couple (Peyman Moaadi and Leila Hatami) faces the tough choice between staying in Iran to take care of a parent stricken with Alzheimer’s or leaving the country to ensure their daughter has opportunities for a better life. Farhadi refuses to reduce the cultural implications of the situation in the way that, quite frankly, is easy to do in Western narratives.
Such careful considerations also factor into his latest film, The Salesman, a current Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee focusing on Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini), married performers in an Iranian production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Their peaceful, artistic existence gets shattered once Rana becomes the victim of a sexual assault after the couple moves into a new apartment. Shame falls on both Rana, who decides to forego reporting the incident to the police, and Emad, who feels impotent as a husband and protector. The couple attempts to soldier on, but the trauma — and the incumbent need for resolution — takes on a life of its own. As Emad embarks on a solitary quest to find the assailant, The Salesman casts his efforts in stark contrast to the pulpy action-oriented escapades one expects from Western thrillers.
Crime and punishment, American-style, is all about taking matters into one’s own hands, but Farhadi seeks to illuminate the differences between vengeance and retribution, questioning which of those, if either, truly satisfies a longing for justice. Emad assumes the role of a noirish investigator, but he does so without considering what the real endgame is for himself, Rana or the perpetrator of the crime.
The Salesman never becomes a polemic exercise because Farhadi knows there are no answers to these concerns. Society sells us on the notion that reasoned judgment solves everything, but the truth is far from absolute. It is just a matter of what each individual can afford to live with. (At Esquire Theatre) (PG-13) Grade: A