Iranian director Farhadi uses Miller’s play to reflect on modern life

February 7, 2017 GMT

NEW YORK — Now that Iran’s Oscar-winning writer-director Asghar Farhadi won’t attend the Academy Awards on Feb. 26, what does this mean for his Oscar-nominated entry, “The Salesman,” up for Best Foreign Language Film?

Will Farhadi’s protest against President Trump’s now-blocked ban on seven mainly Muslim nations, including Iran, make a vote for his film a vote for immi­grant freedom?

Or will it change nothing in a category that includes entries from Norway, Sweden, Germany and Australia?

“The Salesman,” a deceptively low-key drama set in contemporary Tehran, follows a local staging of Arthur Miller’s classic tragedy “Death of a Salesman.”


The production’s two actors, who star as discarded salesman Willy Loman and his wife, Linda, are married. When she is assaulted in their apartment, their relationship fractures.

A prominent theme of Miller’s play “is humiliation,” Farhadi, 44, said via a translator late last year when he was here for advance publicity. “That is one of the many thematic connections between Miller and my story.

“‘Death of a Salesman’ is a very famous play in Iran,” he said. “You can’t call it an ‘American’ play anymore — it’s like for the whole world. In my story, the play is more like a mirror in front of the characters.”

In each country where “Death of a Salesman” is performed, Miller allowed changes to be made according to local customs.

How different is the Iranian version?

“The foreign plays that go on the stages in Iran have less censorship problems than the Iranian plays,” Farhadi said. “The biggest problem they have it seems is about women’s clothing.

“For example, in ‘Death’ there is a woman” — a prostitute — “who Willy meets in a hotel, but we can’t have it in Iran that way because we can’t have a woman naked on a bed. So the censorship is not about the content of the play but what the women are wearing.

“The similarity I feel with Arthur Miller at the time of the play and Tehran today is the fast pace and changing ways. I feel that the surface of things is changing very fast but inside things are the same.

“Always in these kinds of fast changes­,” he added, “there is a class of people that gets sacrificed.”

(“The Salesman” opens Friday.)