The Salesman Asghar
Fahadi (Iran 2016) Shahab Hosseini,
viewed Angelika Film Center NYC, 13 Feb 2017; ticket: .00
What’s for sale?
After filming ‘The Past’ in France in 2013, Fahadi returns to Iran in 2016, to make ‘The Salesman’. Fahadi’s concern as film maker to judge from the three films of his that I have seen is locked onto human relations their functioning and the way in which they break down, within the social and cultural context.
‘The Past’ was ineffective as an expression of the human comedy, perhaps because Fahadi, marooned in France outside his native milieu, produced a movie in which melodrama and plot driven concerns dominated the scenario, whereas ‘A Separation’, his previous film, was about process. Those processes, emotional legal social that mediated at the intersections between the personal and the public domains. In ‘A Separation’ plot resolution was subordinate to situation development.
In ‘The Salesman’ returning to a home Iranian setting, Fahadi again focuses on relations not plot. Fahadi incorporates into his focus on the marriage situation of Emad and Rana, the dynamics of the amorphous shifting cultural and social forces that shape and form their relationship. Dynamics that ultimately suggest meanings for us the audience, but meanings that are implicit in the behaviour and demeanour of the characters; rather than explicitly stated melodramatic acting out.
Fahadi bookends and intercuts ‘The Salesman’ with sections from Arthur Miller’s play, ‘The Death of a Salesman’. Emad and Rana play the lead roles of Willie and Linda Loman in this small theatre group production. The manner in which Fahadi uses his chosen excerpts from this particular play seems problematic at the level of meanings in the dialogue, but is strongly suggestive in a more structural formal sense.
Fahadi opens “The Salesman’ with shots of the ‘Death of a Saleman’s’ stage setting; periodically throughout the film he cuts to short clips of the play both in rehearsal and performance. But there is never enough information from the text in these excerpts for an audience to have any notion of what the play is about. You have only the play’s title as a hook telling you that the play somehow concerns ‘death’. For the rest Fahadi simply presents us with observable formal processes of this American drama: Emad and Rana are in a play where they pretend to be/act out the roles of main characters; they dress up in clothes that are disconnected from their way of life; they put on make up to disguise and present themselves as other, in Rana’s case, as Linda, appreciably older; they take on roles and speak lines of dialogue that are exterior to their culture. Yet in spite of this otherness, they somehow remain true to themselves. In contrast as the script develops the particular situation that presses upon their marriage, they become less true to themselves. They become trapped in and by events, estranged from each other, incapable of communication and honesty. This strange concept of Western drama exploiting the possibility of individuated personal malleability (role playing) to illuminate otherness, alien to mainstream traditional Iran, reflects a parody of truth of which the main players, constrained by inhibition, are incapable. And it is Rana herself, not playing Linda, who ages and wilts before our eyes, old and wise before her time, crushed by forces outside her control. The assault on Rana in her own home, shapes the development of ‘The Salesman’. It is the event in the movie that triggers the impulse that drives Fahadi’s script to range over elements of the social and cultural matrix that have fateful implication for both individuals and Iranian society. At the heart of the film lie the relations between the sexes. The weight of law attitude and tradition render women, in certain situations, almost powerless to oppose the male will to control. In particular in relation to those types of circumstances that concern any type of female sexuality exposed to the public gaze or knowledge. At the point of this exposure there is no personal there is only public and the woman in her interiority and her exteriority is identified only in terms of the male imperative. Rana’s mistake has consequences for her, both in the social domain, where she has to endure the mute censor of her neighbours, but most crushingly in her personal relationship with her husband.
It is not absolutely clear from the scenario, if Emad accepts unconditionally his wife’s account of the event. What is clear is that Emad becomes less concerned about Rana’s feelings than his own. The critical point for Emad is the cultural meaning of what has happened. What has happened is that this violation of his wife has impugned his honour. There is an inversion of victim primacy: Emad sees himself and becomes the main victim. And he is unable to give replete and deep acceptance of the damage done to Rama, because his honour, even if it is a fake display dishonestly assumed in bad faith, castes a shadow over the relationship.
The relationship is now about display as Emad defaults to the cultural prescription to restore his honour. Not hers. He becomes ‘the salesman’ determined to sell to her the outward signs of his vindication. Of course Rana does not want this, she desires the opposite, an intimate private acceptance. Instead of this she has to buy, in silence, the commodity of honour which is all the salesman has on his tray. She also has to know that she and her husband can never again engage in the charade that they are equals. He is the salesman, and she has to buy whatever he sells.
Psychically crushed by the developments in this situation, Rana retreats into a sort of cataleptic state. Muteness: the traditional sanctuary of those who have been emotionally wounded. Obversely there is an irony that in her theatrical role Rana, as Linda, can speak. In the play Rana and Emad are equals. They both speak. In filmic role Rana cannot speak. Emad cannot speak. What lies before them is silence.
Silence seems to be an active force in Iranian society as Fahadi, in scripted tangential moments, references elements that make up the everyday experience in a city like Tehran. The ruthless nature of real estate, the wide use of smart phones , fear of the police, the omnipresence of censorship. Fahadi seems to say that you might think that the headlong rush into modernity in a city like Tehran could undermine some of the foundations of tradition; in fact it is more likely to deepen and harden brazen hypocrisy. adrin neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org