Thursday, June 17

The Seller: Arthur Miller’s American Classic Recast in Iran | The seller

TOAt the beginning of Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller dedicates an entire page of notes to describing the long-married house where Willy and Linda Loman live in New York. It is, he writes, a “small, fragile-looking home.” In his 2016 film The Salesman, Iranian writer and director Asghar Farhadi intensifies that symbolism. When we first meet the central couple, amateur theater actors Emad and Rana Etesami (played by Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti), their Tehran flat collapses around them. Construction work has made the structure unsafe and they are suddenly forced to evacuate. This large-scale outing is the first of several pertinent exits and entrances in Farhadi’s film about the theater. Emad and Rana initially weathered the interruption with kindness and good humor, but soon the cracks in their marriage are beginning to show as well.

Asghar farhadi
Asghar Farhadi. Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP / Getty Images

Emad and Rana’s domestic disaster occurs while rehearsing for Miller’s Pulitzer-winner, in which they play Willy and Linda respectively. The film’s opening shot is of the Loman’s bed, and Farhadi’s expert account of the actors’ personal dramas lives up to Miller’s subtitle: “Certain Private Conversations in Two Acts and a Requiem.” Farhadi intersperses scenes from Miller’s work, both in rehearsal and production, skillfully capturing the fragility of the theatrical performance. He does this by transmitting not only the nervous tension that grows between the actors who depend on each other on a stage, which he achieves with close-up camera work, but also a feeling of fragility in the very stages that surround them.

The Seller is a movie that is best viewed without knowing too much about the plot. To be brief: the etesamis move into a new apartment thanks to a favor from fellow actor Babak, the previous occupant was a sex worker, and a double case of mistaken identity leaves Rana traumatized and Emad obsessed with revenge. It would be a mistake to draw too many comparisons between his story and Miller’s work. There is no equivalent fusion of the real and dream worlds in Farhadi’s film, and the Etesamis are younger than the Loman and have no children yet, but Farhadi brings up Miller-like themes, such as a particularly masculine sense of pride. , ambition and shame.

Emad is a literature teacher (the movie also invites us to see teaching as an acting style) and none of his class has ever heard of Death of a Salesman. Viewers familiar with Miller’s work will see details in the film that parallel the world of the Lomans. When Rana and Emad arrive to take a look at their new top-floor apartment, the city of Tehran is framed as if by a replacement proscenium arch. The shot is specifically designed to show a similarity to the Loman house, described in Miller’s notes as surrounded on all sides by “tall, angular shapes” and an “angry orange glow.” The very personal struggles of Miller and Farhadi’s partners are played out against the constant proximity of their neighbors and, by extension, the judgment of society at large. Rana and Emad have a constant audience even off stage. This is a recurring feature in Farhadi’s other films, summed up by the title of his 2018 Spanish-language kidnapping drama Everybody Knows.

Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti arrive to take a look at their new apartment.
Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti arrive to take a look at their new apartment. Photography: Habib Majidi / Allstar / Memento Films

The stakes are high for certain scenes in The Salesman because we know that actors’ mental states are agitated. When Rana decides to continue acting despite her ordeal, we wonder if “medical theater,” as actors sometimes call it, will provide a temporary distraction from her grief. However, she has a meltdown brought on by the gaze of one particular male audience member. Early in the film, Emad makes the joking suggestion that the couple will have to temporarily move into the theater, but Farhadi shows us that they can’t help but bring their domestic troubles to the stage anyway, just like personal struggles can affect anyone. person. Workplace. This is repeated when Emad’s private feud with Babak erupts in front of the audience as he angrily walks off the script.

Farhadi, who studied dramatic arts and stage directing at university, began writing plays and has spoken of his hopes of put on theater in the UK. The seller derives much of his power from simple techniques and theatrical decorations. The opening sequence shows the stage lights on and a set of neon Americana signs; Domestic lighting is also used to a powerful effect in the film, such as the lightbulb that ominously explodes when Frog first sees the bathroom.

Rana and Emad backstage, in the character of Linda and Willy Loman
Rana and Emad backstage, in the character of Linda and Willy Loman

Curtains and furnishings are given importance on the couple’s floor in a way that feels more traditionally theatrical than cinematic. There is also something inherently theatrical about the ongoing presence felt by a character we don’t know: the sex worker who never completely moves out of the couple’s new apartment and who pursues their lives as the woman Willy buys stockings for. While the film uses several different locations and is partially shot on the streets of Tehran, a long section towards the end takes place in the confines of an apartment and unfolds, as observed. by Anthony Lane from New Yorker, like a Strindberg chamber piece.

In 2012, Farhadi won Iran’s first Oscar for his film A Separation, an equally tense drama that also draws its strength from a finely balanced characterization. The vendor brought him a second Oscar, but he did not go to the United States for the ceremony so much as a protest against Donald Trump’s travel ban as “out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected. by the inhumane law that prohibits the entry of immigrants to the United States. While Farhadi’s film itself does not pass up an open comment on Miller’s portrayal of the United States in Death of a Salesman, this highly publicized off-screen drama adds an added dimension to a haunting and superbly acted film about a cracked American dream play.

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