November 16, 2016
This year, the Cinema One Originals Film Festival will run from November 14 to 22, 2016 in only five cinemas: Trinoma, Gateway, Glorietta 1, Greenhills Theater Mall and the new Cinematheque Centre Manila. There are seven full length films and three documentary features in competition this year. The rest of the other 40 participating films are previous Festival favorites and current World Cinema picks. Unfortunately, with so many films, such I cannot seem to find an available schedule to watch a film in competition.
Instead, the first festival film I was able to catch was this Iranian film that premiered in this year's Cannes Film Festival. As proof of its excellence, it won Best Screenplay for director Asghar Farhadi and Best Actor Shahab Hosseini. (If you recall, the Philippines' Jaclyn Jose won the Best Actress for "Ma'Rosa" in the same ceremony.) It also won as Best Film or Audience Choice in a number of other film festivals in various countries.
I knew Asghar Farhadi as the writer and director of the excellent "A Separation" (MY REVIEW) which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for Iran back in 2012, as well as a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, very rare for a foreign language film. "The Salesman" is vying for the same honor this year as Iran's entry to the Oscar race.
School teacher Emad Etesami and his wife Rana were co-starring in a local stage production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" as Willy and Linda Loman. Because the building where they live had been condemned because its instability, they were forced to move to another apartment without much knowledge about its previous tenants. One day, an episode of violence happens inside their home. This brings about profound changes in their daily routine as well as their marriage. Usually mild-mannered Emad unearths a side of him his wife had never seen before.
Like "A Separation", "The Salesman" also explores the relationship between husband and wife under crisis. The writing is very incisive and insightful, with its commentary about family, neighbors, the theater scene and criminal justice in Iran. There is also significant statements about the women of this mysterious country, how they behave and how men treat them. The complex tension of the whodunit aspect of the film gradually built up so well that it kept me on at the edge of my seat until that big suspenseful revelatory moment.
The acting in this film was very natural, as if these were all real people, so sense of pretension at all. Shahab Hosseini's impressive performance as Emad was largely internal as he struggled to cope with criminal incursion into their home and the extreme trauma this gave his wife. Taraneh Alidoosti was very fragile as Rana. Her expressive face and eyes communicated her painful experience throughout. For his important supporting role, Farid Sajadhosseini was very realistic as the sickly father-in-law-to-be of Emad's prime suspect.
It would be difficult to watch this film without comparing it with "A Separation" which was film of explosive impact that hits you with the very first viewing, a solid 10/10 in my book. "The Salesman" tended to meander a little in the midsection. There are some scenes of socio-cultural interest, but which have puzzling significance to the plot development. Honestly, I admit that will be needing a second viewing in order to completely grasp the nuances of the lines delivered in those alternating scenes of "Death of a Salesman" being staged and the events to the couple that were unfolding in real life. 8/10.