The Salesman ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

A married couple who are members of a theater troupe -- shades of Hitchcock's Murder! -- seek out a new home after the apartment they're staying in collapses, which leads them to an unexpected moment of brutality that threatens their lives in every sense, and ultimately to a clumsy kind of vigiliantism -- shades of Villeneuve's Prisoners, of all things. On the whole this is a harrowing odyssey of not just the complicated matter of juggling roles as member of family and member of society and of knowing how radically the idea of protecting someone you love can change on a dime, but of how men, deplorable and otherwise, view themselves and construct narratively and socially convenient personalities, and the stories they and their loved ones tell each other to continue the illusion. As in A Separation, both major characters are completely sympathetic and there is no actual comfortable way out of the scenario that transpires, even if the extreme actions taken by Shahab Hosseini's Emad in the second half place this a little farther away from reality than that film ever got.

This entry in the director's series of moral challenges is a more successful fusion of thriller and domestic drama than the Antonioni-derived About Elly, and less melodramatically excessive than The Past, but it shares one serious narrative indulgence with the former, by awkwardly, if judiciously, skirting the pivotal event itself and adding a layer of whodunit intrigue to a story I'm not sure needed it. I am not arguing that I wanted the crime shown -- actually I think the ambiguity about what happened is helfpul -- but I think the way that the film gives us an intimate moment with Rana just before it happens then abruptly shifts perspective feels too obvious, too off-rhythm, and a little too much of a cute little cheat. Nevertheless, Farhadi talked about wanting to explore male humiliation in this film (in parallel with Arthur Miller) and, once again, it's remarkable how much a story that owes so much specifically to the socioeconomic realities of Iranian life requires almost no neck-craning to become a disturbing view at the world we all share. It's wild how much realistic detail Farhadi is able to bake into these films; hours later, I found myself repeatedly returning to the image of the old man drinking water out of hands (his own then others') because there were no glasses, and contemplating the film's central dilemma over and over again -- what would you do? Why is it up to you to know what to do, to dictate how a loved one should feel, to serve out punishment or to ignore it when someone hurts someone close to you? The finale steers away from resolution and peacemaking even more than usual; if Eyes Wide Shut ends with the closing of a rupture, this is watching the beginning of one, one neither husband nor wife wants, and one neither of them can do anything to avoid. I don't know that Farhadi is saying anything about "fate" per se, only that his larger point that empathy is often the only preparation for real catastrophe resonates in a way that reverberates through every context of time and place.