This review was originally published on News Cult in January 2017.

Starring: Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti

Director: Asghar Farhadi

Running Time: 125 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Scars Both Physical and Emotional

Release Date: January 27, 2017 (Limited)

The Iranian film The Salesman (an Oscar nominee this year for Foreign Language Film) starts off as a sort of slice-of-life tale that is a bit of a bummer. Then its climax turns it into a major bummer – a life-altering journey through hell. Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are a young couple whose move to a new house coincides with their work on a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. It turns out that the former occupant of their new place may have been a prostitute, which they discover when a former client shows up and leaves Rana bruised and bloodied.

Following the attack, The Salesman is a study in the day-to-day of young artistic professionals in Iran (it does not feel too different than it often does in America or Europe), but with the dark cloud of post-traumatic stress hanging over. Rana is hardly able to bear any time alone, and the dramatic weight of the play is too much for her to get through. (I am uncertain why Death of a Salesman was chosen as the production. Any thematic connection to Emad and Rana’s story is rather oblique – not a criticism, just an observation.) The acting is pleasantly naturalistic, and there is a cute child performance, but it is an unpleasant watch that just glides along uneasily thanks to an otherwise peaceful existence being rocked by violence.

For the last act, The Salesman really leans into that unease, making the experience even more painful but also more rewarding. Emad has declined to go to the police, instead taking the investigation into his own hands. When the culprit turns out to be someone completely unexpected, a whole Pandora’s Box of moral conundrums spills open. There is no happy way for this to end, and writer/director Asghar Farhadi (A SeparationThe Past) does not shy away from any of the devastating implications. The feeling you get after watching The Salesman is the definition of “shook.”

The Salesman is Recommended If You LikePrisoners

Grade: 4 out of 5 Pleas for Forgiveness