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The apathetic characters and the confused audience
Let's start with the fact that I like 'About Elly' from Farhadi and believe it still is his finest to date. Unfortunately, 'The Salesman' is a Felix Baumgartner-ish free- fall.
Farhadi writes the dark side of the society. His works often depict the cynical side of human nature. And, his prose is usually honest. BUT:
Regarding The Salesman:
1- There is utterly limited characterization. Farhadi fails to build the main characters. Prior to the incident (first twenty minutes or so), we do not get a sense of who these people indeed are. Thus, after the incident, we cannot connect to the couple, even considering the nature of such an inhumane episode. There is no frame of reference, no baseline.
2- Characters are floppy and sense-less. I know that it would be difficult to 'talk' about such an incident and that's where Farhadi intends to go, BUT who COULD make spaghetti and listen to music 48 hours later? does not make sense. I have not seen more apathetic characters and I certainly do not see the 'destruction' of the family. Where is the inner conflict? show me! A perfect example would be the couple from Rabbit Hole (2010). I live with them.
3- The aforementioned destruction could be 'shown' in the house, instead of the set of The Salesman. Borrowing from Miller's play is futile, in my opinion.
3- 'Mannerism' kills the script. Farhadi brutally eradicates the script by cutting the scene, 'make a statement' about the society, and proceeding to next one. These unnecessarily statements do not rise from the characters, but the director. Examples: Classroom or the roof.
4- There is no tension. Farhadi provides little regarding the incident, other than the aftermath of a bloody floor. I understand Farhadi ultimately favors linear narrative. But perhaps for this specific case, a chronological narrative weakens tension.
5- I was hoping to be impressed, at least, by the encounter of Taraneh (Rana) and the old man, but truthfully that is one clumsy barren scene. Everything - all the feelings - should be revealed on the old man's / Rana's look, but we get a disappointing shot and a sense-less "sorry". Just compare the look on Mads Mikkelssen in Jagten (2012 - Church scene) or even the looks on Gosling and Stone (La La Land - final scene) and the non-existent one here. Case in point.
6- The plot is haphazard with several holes. It's not even remotely Cannes material, let alone winning the prize.
I expected more with all the hype around the film, but am left with a confused chaotic film which leads us nowhere.
Looking forward to Farhadi's next one.