The Salesman - an interview with Asghar Farhadi

Oscar-winning Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Past) returns with The Salesman (فروشنده ), a characteristically taut drama exploring how unexpected cracks can form in the foundations of a seemingly happy marriage.

The future looks promising for amateur actors Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) as they prepare for opening night on their production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. However, when dangerous work on a neighbouring building forces the couple to leave their home and move into a new apartment, a case of mistaken identity sees a shocking and violent incident throw their lives into turmoil. What follows is a series of wrong turns that threaten to destroy their relationship irreparably.

Winner of the Best Screenplay and Best Actor awards at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars, Farhadi’s study on the potent power of pride, guilt and shame treads the line between arresting drama and revenge thriller with masterful ease. 

#LondonIsOpen: Trafalgar Square screening 

On Sunday 26 February 2017 Trafalgar Square will host a free public premiere screening of The Salesman organised by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and supported by Curzon.

Despite being nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category, the production team behind The Salesman have been affected by the recent U.S. travel ban on nationals from several majority Muslim countries (including Iran) and won't be able to attend the Oscars ceremony on Sunday night in Los Angeles. Farhadi published a statement about this.

This #LondonIsOpen event in response to the travel ban is an opportunity for all Londoners to come together and celebrate London’s diversity, demonstrating that London is open to creative talent as well as people from all countries and all communities.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “On the night of the Oscars, it’s absolutely fantastic to be able to screen the UK premiere of The Salesman in Trafalgar Square. I’m delighted to welcome people from across the capital and beyond to share in this celebration of London as an international hub of creativity and as a beacon of diversity. Londoners have always prided themselves on their openness to the world, and what better way to do that than to come together to watch this powerful film in one of the world’s most famous public spaces.”

Asghar Farhadi said: “Screening The Salesman in Trafalgar Square has a great symbolic value for me. The gathering of the audience around The Salesman in this famous London square is a symbol of unity against the division and separation of people. I offer my warmest thanks to the Mayor of London and the cinema community for this generous initiative. I welcome and appreciate this invaluable show of solidarity.”

For anyone who can't make it to Trafalgar Square we are also hosting previews at our cinemas on Sunday.


Ahead of these special events and the film's release on 17 March (in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema) we publish here the Press Notes and an interview with director Asghar Farhadi.

Asghar Farhadi on the set of The Salesman with leading actor Shahab Hosseini ©Habib_Majidi

After making The Past in France and in French, why did you go back to Tehran for The Salesman?

When I finished The Past in France, I started to work on a story that takes place in Spain. We picked the locations and I wrote a complete script, without the dialogue. We discussed the project with the producers and main cast. But to get the whole team together would take a year, which, much to my delight, gave me the time to do a film in Iran. I wasn’t totally at ease with the idea of doing two films in a row abroad, and distancing myself from shooting in my own country. But now, all going well, I’ll get back to the Spanish project.

How did this new project come about?

I’d been taking notes for this simple story that I’d had at the back of my mind for some time. When the chance to do a film in Iran came up, I started collecting all these scattered notes I’d been taking over the years. Besides that, I’ve always wanted to do a film that takes place in the world of theatre. I did theatre when I was younger, and it meant a lot to me. The story was ideally suited for the theatre milieu. So I started developing a scenario about characters putting on a play.

How would you define The Salesman? Is it a story of revenge or of lost honour?

I’d have real difficulty in defining or summarising The Salesman or even saying what this story means to me personally. Everything depends on the viewer’s own particular preoccupations and mindset. If you see it as social commentary, you’ll remember those elements. Somebody else might see it as a moral tale, or from a totally different angle. What I can say is that once again, this film deals with the complexity of human relations, especially within a family.

At the start of the film, Emad and Rana are an ordinary couple. Are these two characters typical of the Iranian middle class?

Emad and Rana are a middle class Iranian couple. We can’t say they represent the majority of couples in this class as to their relations or as individuals. The characters were simply created so that the viewer doesn’t have the feeling this couple is any different from many others. It’s an ordinary couple with its own characteristics. They’re both in the cultural sphere and act in the theatre. But they find themselves in a situation that reveals unexpected aspects of their personalities.

Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahb Hosseini as Rana and Emad in The Salesman

The original title of the film echoes that of the Arthur Miller play Emad and Rana are acting in with their friends. Why did you choose to use this work?

I read Death of a Salesman when I was a student. I was very struck by this play, probably because of what it says about human relationships. It’s a very rich play, offering multiple possible readings. The most important dimension is the social critique of a period in history when the sudden transformation of urban America caused the ruin of a certain social class. A category of people who couldn’t adapt to this rapid modernisation got crushed. In that sense, the play resonates strongly with the current situation in my country. Things are changing at a breathtaking pace and it’s adapt or die. The social critique at the heart of the play is still valid in our country today.

Another dimension of the play is the complexity of social relations within the family, notably the couple composed of the salesman and Linda. The play has a strong emotional appeal, which as well as being very moving, makes the audience think about very subtle questions. Once I’d decided that the main characters in the film would belong to a theatre troupe and would be acting in a play, Miller’s work seemed to me very interesting, to the extent that it allowed me to establish a parallel with the personal life of the couple the film is built around. On stage, Emad and Rana play the roles of the salesman and his wife. And in their own life, without realising it, they are going to be confronted with a salesman and his family and have to decide on his fate.

You evoke the anarchic development of Tehran through the view the characters have from the terrace of the new apartment. Is this your personal view of the city you live and work in?

Tehran today is very close to New York as described by Miller at the start of the play. A town whose face is changing at a heady pace, destroying everything that’s old, orchards and gardens, to replace them with towers. This is exactly the environment the salesman lives in. And it’s a new parallel between the film and the play. Tehran is changing in a frenetic, anarchic, irrational way. When a film tells the story of a family, the house obviously has a main role. That was already noticed in my previous films. This time again, the house and the city play a central role.

Tickets for previews of The Salesman at Curzon Cinemas are now on sale. Book now.