I expected this film to be similar to O Lucky Man! However, where O Lucky Man! traces on one man's journey through life, the journey made by the Travelling Salesman is a psychological one. It concerns the gradual disintegration of a Salesman trying to balance long hours on the road with his home life - children he loves but rarely sees and possessions whose values he questions.
Dal Bosco's skill is in making the viewer identify closely with the Salesman (for example by long, hypnotic sequences of the road unwinding in front of him, shot from inside the car). It is significant that as the film goes on and the world closes in on the Salesman, the road sequences change from long, uninterrupted stretches of darkened but open road to cluttered, heavy traffic with no obvious sense of direction.
The film is one of contrasts. Black and white crystal-clear sequences contrast with sequences with the lyrical colour of the escapist sequences, the urbane and banal professionalism of the Salesman as he makes his pitch to various buyers with the exhausted shell of a man who conducts introspective and philosophical debate during a chance encounter with two mysterious salesmen in a bar. I believe this debate was conducted purely in the Salesman's mind with the young, abrasive character and the older, worldweary one representing different facets of his personality.
The contrast with the life he desires, and which is ultimately unobtainable, is displayed by some beautiful, dreamlike, colour sequences (the only colour used in the entire film) which successfully transport the Salesman and the viewer beyond the confines of the immediate environment.
One of the film's strengths is that the film does not resort to cynicism or bitterness. At his lowest point, the Salesman's acceptance of his situation and his realisation of how to resolve it is deeply moving.
However, at the film's bleakest point, Dal Bosco leaves us with a moment of hope - his wife is wakened suddenly, and walks through the silent house to find the Salesman poised gun in hand in the sleeping children's bedroom. The end credits roll before we find whether he fires the gun, and we are left wondering whether his mute appeal for help in the final scene is answered.
This film makes harrowing viewing, and is not for some tastes. (about 10% of the audience I was in walked out before the end). However, the film is ultimately a thoughtful exploration of desperation and the need to reconcile important things with those which are merely necessary. I recommend the film - its impact still lingers days afterwards.
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