In Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi's impeccable A Separation, emotional devastation results from minor misunderstandings, caused largely by class divides and religious differences. The subtle contrivances of that 2011 film became more overt in its follow-up, The Past. Now Farhadi has made a drama that billboards its theatricality, opening on the vacant set for a Tehran production of Death of a Salesman. The parallels with that Arthur Miller play that arise over the course of the film are one reason Farhadi titled it The Salesman.
Rehearsing to play Willie and Linda Loman are another married couple, Emad and Rana (Shahab Hosseini and Taraneh Alidoosti, both exemplary). Emad teaches literature and film to high school boys, which allows Farhadi to include a bit of The Cow, the 1969 movie considered the first of the Iranian new wave.
As the play's premiere looms, a certain amount of backstage uproar is to be expected. Censors may trim some of Miller's text, and an actress complains about having to be fully covered while playing a scene in which her character says she's half-dressed. But such disorder is insignificant compared to the chaos that rattles the lead actors' offstage life.
Emad and Rana must suddenly flee their apartment after construction on a neighboring site threatens to collapse the building. Walls crack and windows break in a visceral scene that's also a metaphor for an upcoming disruption of domestic tranquility.