That's why when his latest film, The Salesman, opens with an apartment building literally crumbling around its inhabitants, we wonder...what does it mean? What does it already reveal of the relationships of the main characters, married couple Emad and Rama? Do the fissures represent the state of their marriage or of the society around them?
And we're off.
Farhadi places clues throughout the story while always obscuring the actual events, and he thus encourages the audience to act as judge and jury. Unlike a Kong monster that rages across the screen in the first five minutes, the absence here is what causes suspense. In A Separation, we never actually see the central event take place, and About Elly is a delicious Antonionian exercise. This is another reason why a Farhadi movie is so refreshing (and also one of the several why his films are rather stressful to take part in), because the exercise of watching his movies goes beyond the end credits. He takes ordinary, relatable characters and then forces unusual (albeit not always extraordinary) situations on them to see how a person's outward personality can change when put under duress. Similarly, how we as an audience interpret events or take sides can reveal more about our personality when we discuss afterwards.
In The Salesman, married Iranian couple Emad and Rama move into a temporary home while taking part in a stage production of an adapted "Death of a Salesman", but become involved in an altercation due to circumstances with their previous apartment tenant.
Although technically, Farhadi's movies could be termed as domestic dramas, they're paced more like thrillers, with meticulously spaced events that rampantly increase strain. The build-up is as insidious as well as palpable, making his climaxes as surprising and explosive as they are inevitable. He always easily aligns us with characters before making them spiral to a place where we're completely uncertain as to what will happen next. Can we comprehend the actions they take at this point? Do we want to?
Because Farhadi wants to impose as little of directness on the audience as possible in order to give space for their own discovery, it feels antithetical to project too many of my narrative interpretations. However, actor and actress Taraneh Alidoosti and Farhadi regular Shahab Hosseini are as masterful as the story arcs that bind them irrevocably. There are definite patterns of censorship and public humiliation present. As an actor, protagonist Rana should be able to empathetically put himself in the shoes of others, but The Salesman is the question and sometimes the challenge of whether we can do the same to the characters on screen.