Not heavy. Intense. That’s how I want to describe Forushande (The Salesman). Only when the end credits started rolling did I allowemyself to breathe again. The film is naked and honest without being either raw or banal.
The story has no real profundity, nor particular gravity. It nevertheless makes the soul think – that less remarkable, yet no less important, state lying between feelings and ideas that is simply the human condition. And no three words better sum up Arthur Miller’s work than “the human condition”. The film in that sense is a true tribute to the literary masterpiece of its namesake. Both are, in essence, about the gap between ideal and reality, the gap between who we are and who we want to be / what is and what we want to be that we are not quite conscious of, or at least reluctant to acknowledge. Both are about wanting to know the truth and the accompanying regret. Things are not as they seem, because we hide things, because we are human.
I’m reading Tolstoy at the moment (The Death of Ivan Ilyich). While Tolstoy has a decidedly more pronounced humourous approach – as if lifting the corner of the cover to something grey and morbid and giving us a knowing wink while doing so – than Miller, these two word-wielding heroes of mine reveal aspects of our humanity like few others can. Miller’s characters strive and strain towards some form of self-betterment or closure, and the characters in Forushande attempt the same. The resulting revelation is hardly a resolution and, as often the case with Miller, ends in tears.
Emad, the main character in the film, demonstrates to us that the difficulty of doing the right thing despite good intentions lies in there being no defined “right thing”. How much simpler the world would be when right and wrong were so clearly delineated! His wife Rana changes in the role she plays: from being a victim without agency, she becomes an observer to Emad’s actions and his moral guide. She manages this switch when she is suddenly hit with cold, sobering reality. Both actors deliver stellar performances: every thought, every doubt, every internal struggle, every fear, every frustration you could reach out and touch.
The penultimate scene is visually pregnant with meaning, narratively symmetrical and poetically satisfying. It could’ve been the perfect curtain close. So why did they introduce one more scene to close on? Perhaps because it is, in the end, about people rather than place, and how they must live with their decisions and those of others. The day-to-day goes on and it is not certain how it will proceed. Well, presumably about the same as before, at least on the surface.
Students and fans of Miller will recognise the same anxiety, insecurity and growing sense of dread and inevitability in Forushande as in his plays, and will probably love the film for it. Everyone else will recognise the same humanity in the film as they see in their own lives.