TIFF 2016: The Salesman Review

Special Presentations

“Did you call the ambulance?”
“No, I called his family.”

Oscar winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) continues to excel with his latest, a post-modern revamping of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. It helps to have a working knowledge of the play to better appreciate the genius behind Farhadi’s updating of an American classic.

Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti play Emad and Rana, a married couple who are also playing Willy and Linda Loman in an Iranian staging of Death of a Salesman. An Iranian adaptation of the play is not without its initial challenges: censors want three passages removed, and the woman who plays Willy’s mistress is being lambasted in real-life for the character she is playing. However, the real challenge of putting on this production occurs when Rana is assaulted at home.

The “hot and cold” response to the assault divides the couple. Emad vows revenge and sets off trying to determine the identity of the assailant. This aspect reminded me of the whodunit aspect of Farhadi’s earlier films, including A Separation, which I have rather enjoyed trying to piece together. Rana, however, is traumatized by the events and is focused on trying to cope with her new fear of being attacked again. A scene where she attempts to keep up with Emad on stage while Emad is spouting abusive lines (as given by Miller’s play) is when we start to notice that the play holds special significance in the lives of this couple.

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Comparing this film with the play is inevitable. It could be said that Emad becomes Willy in terms of attempting to salvage his male pride over what happens to Rana. However, to avoid spoilers, I will suggest there is another salesman, especially if you keep in mind some of Willy’s defining characteristics (is my English teacher side showing yet?). 

Don’t miss this film, and if you’re not already familiar with the play within the film, this is a great excuse to correct that. 

Screening: 

Tuesday Sept. 13, 5:45pm @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

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Wednesday Sept. 13, 1:00pm @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Michael McNeely is a deaf-blind film critic and advocate for greater accessibility in our cinemas. Read more about his story here.

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