Attention Must Be Paid To What 'The Salesman' Is Selling A review of The Salesman, an Iranian film about a couple whose home life becomes unsettled while they're starring together in a production of Death of a Salesman.
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Attention Must Be Paid To What 'The Salesman' Is Selling

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Attention Must Be Paid To What 'The Salesman' Is Selling

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Attention Must Be Paid To What 'The Salesman' Is Selling

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The executive order banning visitors and refugees from seven majority-Muslim nations is having some unanticipated effects in Hollywood. "The Salesman" has an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film. Its director, Asghar Farhadi, is from Iran and subject to that temporary ban.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Yesterday, Farhadi issued a statement saying he will not attend the Academy Awards ceremony even if he were granted an exception. He said, the similarities among the human beings on this earth far outweigh their differences.

CORNISH: We have a review of "The Salesman" from our movie critic Bob Mondello. He says the film makes Farhadi's point in an intriguing way. It uses an American stage classic to comment on a marriage in Tehran.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: The first thing on screen could be a spread in House Beautiful - a sofa, a table and chairs, a bedroom suite all arranged just so, lit to a fare-thee-well. They are, in fact, part of a stage set. Real life is messier. High school teacher Emad and his wife Rana, who've been rehearsing "Death Of A Salesman" on that stage set, are awakened in the middle of the night in their own place by shouts that their apartment building is falling apart. Cracks open up in walls. Gas is leaking. Clearly they need a new place to live.

So it's a relief at rehearsals when a cast member mentions a just-vacated apartment - as it happens, not entirely vacated. A woman's cat and belongings are still there, a woman who neighbors tell them had many male visitors. Still, they're desperate enough to move in anyway. Rehearsals go on, as do their lives. About a week later, Rana hears the intercom and buzzes in someone she assumes is her husband. Emad comes home hours later to find bloody footprints on the stairs.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SALESMAN")

SHAHAB HOSSEINI: (As Emad Etesami) Rana? Rana?

MONDELLO: It's at this point that the film becomes morally complicated. That's something you'll expect if you've seen filmmaker Asghar Farhadi's other films - his Oscar-winning "A Separation," say, which also puts characters in impossibly uncomfortable situations and then settles back to watch what they do.

"The Salesman" is centrally about an invasive act that shatters a marriage, much as the apartment was shattered at the film's beginning. It has a lot of twinned notions like that. And possibly because Farhadi majored in theater in college, it's also savvy about the intersection of stage and screen, fiction and reality, how the formal beats of tragedy in "Death Of A Salesman" contrast with the messier beats of life for the people performing "Death Of A Salesman" to the point that Emad, playing Willy Loman, erupts in unscripted fury onstage at the man who rented them the apartment.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE SALESMAN")

HOSSEINI: (As Emad Etesami, speaking Persian).

MONDELLO: In the play, Willy worries about being able to provide for his family. Emad, playing Willy, worries about being able to protect his family, connections that tell you attention has been paid and that there's what you might call universal value to what Farhadi's "The Salesman" is selling. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAMIAK SONG, "ESTE ES MI SECRETO")

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