Iran’s ‘Salesman’ often a superior achievement

Starts Feb. 3 at Laemmle’s Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre, Beverly Hills; Laemmle’s Playhouse, Pasadena; Laemmle’s Town Center, Encino. (In Farsi with English subtitles.)Starring: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti.Director: Asghar Farhadi.Running time: 2 hrs., 5 min.Playing: Royal, West L.A. ★★&#x2605&#x2605PG-13: For language, mild violence, some sexual situations.

Exquisite mysteries are solved in “The Salesman,” but it leaves you not knowing what to believe in.
While Rana’s psyche crumbles and Emad turns darker, their modern Persian marriage falls prey to all the sexism, paranoia and mental brutality the Islamic theocracy can inspire, even among its best-educated liberals. All of that gets multiplied tenfold when Emad finally traps the culprit, in what may be the best-written and performed third act of any film this decade.I’m not quite sure how Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman is meant to mirror Emad throughout “The Salesman.” Western ideals crashing into a wall of grim reality, maybe? But I do know that by the time the movie climaxes, right, wrong, love, anger, justice, remorse, respect and understanding have all been put to the test and mostly found wanting.
Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation” won Iran’s only foreign language film Oscar a few years back.Now the writer-director’s “The Salesman” is the country’s official entry for this year’s contest, and he’s once again picked up an Oscar nomination for his work. In some ways this film’s almost as good as Farhadi’s earlier humanist tragedy. In others, such as plot construction and interweaving complex moral with more traditional kinds of narrative suspense, “Salesman” is sometimes a superior achievement.Seeing as how “Separation” was a perfect film, Farhadi is on quite a roll.

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Farhadi regulars Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidootsi, who played the title role in the director’s 2009 “About Elly,” are Emad and Rana, a sophisticated and likable acting couple who are staging a production of “Death of a Salesman.” When their apartment building is damaged by nearby construction — something about urban development in Tehran these days, which also seems to involve a whole lot of feral cats — they temporarily move into a flat generously offered by a member of their troupe.Unknown to them though, the previous tenant was a prostitute. After Rana is assaulted one night while home alone in the shower, Emad becomes obsessed with finding out which one of the other woman’s clients did the deed.