The Salesman (Forushande)
Written and Directed by Asghar Farhadi | 125 min
Farhadi is a genius storyteller. He’s a filmmaker whose work I stumbled only a few years ago but have followed keenly since. I loved A Separation and The Past, and The Salesman compares favourably to both.
In it he returns to Tehran, telling the story of a teacher, Emad (Shahab Hosseini), and his wife, Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), both of whom “work in culture” as actors in a theatrical production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Forced to leave their apartment building one night when it looks like it’s collapsing—the culprit an over-zealous earthmover on the ground floor—they move into the apartment owned by a friend. A former tenant’s lifestyle leads to the catalyst event for the rest of the story.
In this way, The Salesman is not unlike A Separation, where the inciting incident happens in an apartment about 30 minutes in and then is discussed and debated for the rest of the film. In this case the event—violence toward a woman—isn’t brought to court, but instead the source of a mystery that turns into a premeditated act of revenge. The crux of the piece as it goes along becomes: At what cost revenge?
Along the way we get a great sense of the strata of life in Iran, especially the relationship between men and women, and how perceptions of honour play a role in the patriarchal structure. It challenges those spoken and unspoken rules, cutting them open like a cadaver, laying out the organs to see which ones are working and which are riddled with cancer. Characters do a lot of logistical planning, explaining, and debating actions and intent. It’s sophisticated, suspenseful, and enormously involving. The Saleman won the screenwriting award at Cannes this year, and it was well-deserved.
This is an aside, but I also love how Farhadi uses locations: the living spaces never feel anything less than authentic, even when they are on the verge of collapse, giving a great sense of life in the city.
A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story
Directed by Keith Maitland
Launched on PBS in 1974, Austin City Limits the longest running program about music on American TV. The show was all about local and country musicians for most of the first decade of its existence, but after Ray Charles performed on the ACL stage, it opened up to all kinds of acts. In recent years its focus has been on indie artists, with a recognition of the show’s profile and heritage manifested by a ACL Hall of Fame—Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, and Lyle Lovett were all inducted and gave a concert.
The doc plows through the best clips from 40 years of shows, combined with stories told by those who worked on the show, and artists who’ve trod the stage in both its original location and its brand new building. Highlights include Bonnie Raitt, Beck, Wilco, and especially Radiohead, and Executive Producer Terry Lickona tells many of the best anecdotes.
The only thing that disappoints is the doc forces you to consider how few other live music shows are on TV anymore.
Directed by Alan Gilsenan | Written by Gilsenan, adapting the novel by Carol Shields | 90 min
Meet the Winters: an upper middle-class family of five living in a big house outside Toronto. Days after a sweet let’s-all-get-in-the-car-and-go-to-school scene, the eldest daughter, Norah (Hannah Gross), becomes a homeless person. She’s spotted sitting on the sidewalk outside that most garish of landmarks, Honest Ed’s, the granddaddy of dollar stores, holding a cardboard sign that says “Goodness”.
Mom Reta (Catherine Keener), and Dad Tom (Matt Craven) try to communicate with Norah. She refuses to talk to them. They find that she’s staying at a women’s shelter, and since she’s over the age of 18, there’s not much they can do for her. Reta has a lot on her plate already, as an author late to deliver her long-awaited second novel and doing translations for an esteemed philosopher (Hanna Schygulla).
The film does a good job of showing how ugly Toronto can be in the winter months, and will serve as a reminder of Honest Ed’s when the building is torn down in the next year. We can be grateful for the film’s location manager. But not for much else.
Keener brings quality to any material, but Unless is the quintessential stuffy, pointless Canadian literary adaptation. The film’s rife with problems:
Painfully pretentious voice over: Check. Thematically fraught—it doesn’t know if it’s an indictment of white middle-class values or an ethereal mystery: Check. Forgettable supporting characters that play no real part in the plot: Check. Confusing and poorly edited scenes where two people talk over each other: Check. Unexplained self-immolation: Uhhhh… check.