"Attention," cries out Linda Loman, one of drama's most tragic characters, in Death of a Salesman. "Attention must finally be paid."
The declaration from Arthur Miller's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, one of the most famous in theatrical history, is never heard in the Oscar-nominated film, The Salesman. Yet, attention must be paid to this startling new treatise of crime and punishment. Giving it greater urgency is the fact that The Salesman (entitled Forushande in Persian), is from Iran, catapulting the film's director and stars into the Trump-fueled controversy on whether they'll be able to travel to the Oscars later this month.
Shahab Hosseini won the best actor prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival for his performance as Emad Etesami, a Tehran literature teacher who, along with his wife Rana (played by the equally splendid Taraneh Alidoosti) also happen to be playing the lead roles in a local stage production of Death of a Salesman. At first, the neorealism balance between Emad and Rana's personal lives and their nightly performances come across as being minimalist, almost slight. But students of Arthur Miller's 20th century tragedy will recall Willy Loman's undoing was his emasculation by unforeseen circumstance. And in one brief moment of mistaken identity and violence in The Salesman, perpetrated against Rana, Emad's own spiral into emasculation leads the audience into a Hitchcockian suspense of ill-fated vengeance. The Salesman's final act, where Emad's one-man judge and jury obsession leads him to a suspect we would never guess to be a perpetrator, is a must-see 40-minutes. Concurrently, the fissures exposed by the attack against Rana bleed into the couple's ill-fated stage performances in The Death of a Salesman. And in that, director Asghar Farhadi's blend of stage and cinema makes The Salesman one of the best films of the year.
Meanwhile, the real-world global drama surrounding President Trump's proposed travel ban from Iran and six other Muslim-majority nations left Farhadi and his cast twisting in the wind over their ability to attend the Sunday, Feb. 26 Academy Awards ceremony. As of press time, Trump's White House lawyers have lost two court challenges, lifting the travel ban, but the president has insisted that he'll continue doing everything within his power to block travel from Iran to the U.S. Farhadi, uncertain of his ability to travel to Hollywood, told The New York Times, "I neither had the intention to not attend, nor did I want to boycott the event as a show of objection, for I know that many in the American film industry and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are opposed to the fanaticism and extremism which are today taking place more than ever ... However, it now seems that the possibility of this presence is being accompanied by ifs and buts which are in no way acceptable to me even if exceptions were to be made for my trip." Tareneh Alidoosti, who portrays The Salesman's Rana, added that she would be boycotting the ceremony, calling Trump "a racist."
In response, the Motion Picture Academy said Farhadi's dilemma was "extremely troubling," adding, "We believe any form of censorship – including the restriction of travel – to be against all values we cherish as a community of storytellers."
That alone, should encourage you to see The Salesman when it opens at The Flicks in Boise, beginning Friday, Feb. 17. Add to that, the fact that its themes transcend all borders, making it essential you rush to this film.