Using the device of a play within a movie, Asghar Farhadi (“A Separation”) this time brings us a whodunit set in Tehran. A young couple, Emad Etesami (Shahab Hosseini), and his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), are actors who play Willy and Linda Loman in a local production of “Death of a Salesman.” Emad has a day job teaching a high school literature course, where his students, mostly affectionately, hold a mirror up to his imperfections (as only students can do), their counterpunch to his insistence on their adhering to his high standards of scholarship and comportment.
The film opens as Emad and Rana are forced to evacuate their apartment because the aging building has been condemned. We see Emad going the extra mile to help an elderly tenant evacuate her infirm son. Apartments are hard to come by, but a friend at the theater offers an apartment for free. The apartment is run-down in a deserted part of town, but it has possibilities and the price is right, so Emad and Rana take it in spite of the fact that a former tenant has locked her belongings in one of the rooms, a strange inconvenience that becomes increasingly stranger and vexing.
No sooner does the couple move in than Emad comes home to find his wife missing, and blood on the bathroom floor. He discovers Rana in a hospital emergency room, where she is receiving treatment for a severe head injury incurred during an attack she does not remember the details of. A neighbor who rescued her tells Emad that the attack was serious, and in spite of his wife’s protests to the contrary, there is the growing suspicion that the attack involved a rape. Rana is unwilling to take her scant recollections of what happened to the police. When Rana breaks down during a performance, and cannot return to the Salesman cast until she has recovered from the trauma of the attack, Emad goes on a one-man mission to investigate the crime, intent on exacting retribution.
The resolution in the last moments of the film, raises conundrums and conflicts that can surprise us when the usual suspects are not in harness. The poignancy of what a single act and its consequences can invite, move us past reflexive responses.
Here, as he did in “A Separation,” Asghar delves beneath the surface of quotidian dilemmas, searching for authentic tributaries to the source of our sometimes elusive humanity.