Film Review: Iranian filmmaker walks the censorship tightrope

The Iranian film maker Asghar Farhadi manages to walk the censorship tightrope quite skilfully.

The Salesman
Director Asghar Farhadi
In cinemas from April 6

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi manages to walk the censorship tightrope quite skilfully. With his film A Separation, he was initially refused permission to shoot the film and when it was completed it was almost banned but, when it beat an Israeli film for an Oscar, it was lauded by the state.  

With his latest film, The Salesman, he has again caused some controversy by refusing to travel to America and attend the Oscars where he was to again win Best Foreign film in protest at Mr Trump's travel ban.

With The Salesman, Farhadi seems to be conscious of his political problems with only a few small criticisms of the state although he seems to have created one problem which may well be also a positive in the eyes of the state, however.

The film is partly set around the rehearsals and performance of an Iranian language version of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (hence the title) with Emad (Shahab Hosseini) playing Willy, while Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), plays both his wife as well as Willy’s on-stage wife. The play and the film could be seen as having similar themes around the tensions in a relationship. For Iranian officials, the choice of an American play by a Jewish writer might have been contentious but as it shows the corrupt side of American capitalism it was probably allowed to escape censorship.

Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are a young couple living in Tehran where their apartment building begins to collapse because of adjacent excavations – a metaphor for collapsing Iranian society? They have to move to another apartment where Ana is attacked by an unknown intruder. This dramatically changes their lives, creating a tension between husband and wife as Emad decides to avenge her.

Much of the film is in the form of a thriller as Emad attempts to track down the perpetrator but his playing at detective starts to endanger his marriage as well as encountering another precarious relationship.

While not as dramatic as A Separation, the film is similar in the way it focuses on the mundane events, activities and objects, slowly building up a dense and complex portrait of the main characters' flaws and motivations.

Shahab Hosseini gives an incisive portrayal as the frustrated and angry husband, who is normally in control of his life, while Taraneh Alidoosti gives a nuanced performance of the wife trying to come to terms with the ramifications of her assault and her husband’s responses.

Although most of the film is very much about issues related to Iranian society, overall the themes about relationships are universal.