Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's The Salesman is a tense, visceral drama of wounded masculinity -- and therein lies part of its problem. Farhadi, whose About Elly and A Separation are two of the greatest movies of the past decade, can find tension in the most mundane of exchanges, and he can bring your heart to a stop with just a few glances. The Salesman works well on a ground level, but everything resting atop the foundational drama slowly crumbles.
The film opens with married theater actors Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) being forced out of their apartment building after it starts to shake and crack, thanks to a construction project next door. Through a colleague, they manage to find a flat that’s about to be vacated by another woman, Ahoo. But she never shows up to take her stuff away. That puts a strain on Emad and Rana’s own relationship, a situation that becomes dire when Rana is mysteriously assaulted in their new place after letting in a mysterious man whom she thought was Emad.
Farhadi’s ability to stage a scene, to build the tensions between his characters until you're bursting with anticipation, remains so potent that I admired the immensity of his skill even as I called bullshit on much of what I was seeing. Farhadi’s mastery of intimate drama, of the glances and slights and minor transgressions that can poison relationships, is predicated on moving the pieces of his narrative puzzle into just the right configuration for maximum conflict. This time, as he manhandles things into place, cracks begin to appear in his artifice.