Friday, April 14, 2017

Asghar Farhadi's Salesman, an understated complex movie that fails to come to terms with its own ccomplexity

On the face of it, Asghar Farhadi's Salesman, the winner of the 2017 Oscar for the Best Foreign Language film, appears to be an overwrought film, magnifying an inconsequential event into an obsessive moment. It is reflective of Iranian sensibility. Some of the Syrian movies too display this quality, though the Syrian filmmakers are not as skillful as the Iranians in weaving a gossamer-thin tale. But thinking over the movie, ruminating over it long after the film is over, it becomes clear that in the character of Emad, played by Shahab Hosseini, displays a strange pettiness despite the fact of being a sensitive, especially American, literature teacher in a school, and who enacts the role of Willy Loman of Arthur Miller's iconic play, Death of a Salesman. His wife, Rana, played by Taraneh Alidoosti, play's Loman's wife, Linda. The tragedy of Willy Loman arises from the fact that he fails to succeed, which is what the American Dream is all about. Emad somewhere seems to be suffering from some kind of anguish, which remains inarticulate until he finds the perfect peg as it were in the form of the intruder into his newly rented place, when his wife is in the bathroom, she panics and she is hurt and traumatised. The unexpressed frustration of Emad seems to find vent in the anger against the intruder, whom he manages to track down. He metes out retribution to the old man, which verges on the fatal. He is hell-bent on humiliating the old man, and his vengeance instead of being righteous turns out to be petty. Emad falls in the eyes of his wife. The experience o Emad seems to mirror that of Loman, though in an inverted fashion. The humiliation of the old man, Naser, who is a vendor, and who ventures into the house because the previous occupant was flirting with him, seems in a way Emad's blind rage.
The film is a tightly scripted one, and it shows the fraught life of near-insignificance of Emad. Miller's Death of a Salesman turns out to be some kind of a sounding board for Emad's own life. It might appear to be an over-interpretation to see any kind of connection between the play in the film and the life of the film's protagonists. But to see no connection between the two makes the film merely tawdry tale.
But in spite of the connections, the character of Emad remains fairly diminutive in moral terms.
The movie could however be seen as a small episode in the life of a couple, which could have taken a serious turn. The ending is open-ended. We do now know whether the old man dies, whether Rana walks out on Emad as she threatens to do if Emad were to reveal the old man's misdemeanour to his family. What is the state of Emad's mind after he humiliates, and quite nearly kills, the old man who stalks his wife? Asghar Farhadi keeps it open.
The film tries to be a morality play, and the director beats around the bush to make, and even not to make, the point. On this score he succeeds. The matter-of-fact delineation raises expectations without fulfilling them. The director is reluctant to make the connections, to make the big point. For this viewer, the aesthetic and moral teaser is the failure of the movie because it leaves the characters in the movie hanging, except for Rana when she threatens to walk out, and the family of the old man who reveal their unquestioning faith in the goodness of Emad and Rana, and that of the old man as well.

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