BY ROGER THOMAS
I always try to see all the Oscar nominated films before the ceremony. Some years it is harder than others. The short subjects are often not shown even in the Charlotte area. The documentaries are hit and miss. Some play, others do not. Then there are the “Foreign Language” category. I cannot think of the single year that all five foreign nominees have played in Charlotte before the ceremony. It may have happened, but I do not remember it.
This year is not an exception. Of the five nominees, I have only seen two of the films: the Sweden entry “The Man Called Ove” and the entry from Iran “The Salesman.” I hope to see the other three, Germany’s “Toni Erdmann,” Australia’s “Tanna” and Denmark’s “Land of Mine” but I may end watching DVD’s because those latter three do not play close by.
As for the two I have seen, both are exceptionable. I was completely surprised by “The Man Called Ove.” I know many people who have read the book, but I have not. However I think it is an outstanding film and my choice to win the Oscar for Best Foreign film.
In the showing of “Ove” a fellow viewer was shocked because the film had subtitles. She got up and announced to the audience that she was going to try and get her money back but if she could not, she would return to the theatre. She returned and I almost asked her after the film ended, “Aren’t you glad you stayed?” She left too quickly for me to discover her answer.
I guess everyone in the theatre for “The Salesman” already knew that the film had subtitles. At least no one tried to get their money back.
“The Salesman” is quite a different film than “Ove.” I would compare “Salesman” to many of the works of the great director Alfred Hitchcock.
This is a tense story. A young woman is attacked while taking a shower. Her husband, a high school teacher, is driven to discover who harmed his wife. She wants to put the whole incident behind her. In the midst of all that is happening, both spouses are acting in a play, “Death of a Salesman.” The husband plays the role of Willy Loman. Hence the title and the story are focused on the husband. Shahab Hosseini plays the pivotal role of the distraught husband, Emad Etesami, who is seeking revenge. In the opening scenes the audience sees what a skilled teacher Emad is but after the event, his focus personally and professionally is greatly altered.
There are many characters and twists in the story, but ultimately the focus keeps coming back to the assault. Clues are found. Questions are raised and like any good thriller twists often confuse or turn into nothing.
Ultimately, the conclusion satifies. The filmmakers offer a story about obsession, revenge, regret, remorse, forgiveness and justice. I am not sure if the same choices would be made by an American screenwriter or director, and that would be a shame because the climax of the film works extraordinarily well.
One other strength of “The Salesman” is the glimpses one sees of Iranian life. Apartments, schools, streets, and other settings are all interesting. I hope Iranian filmmaking flourishes so there will be more films set there. Of course, I also hope that the films will all be as captivating as this one is.
Both “The Man Called Ove” and “The Salesman” moved me. Both the films are strong and deserve audiences. “Ove” is still my choice as the best, but if on Oscar night, the announcer calls out “The Salesman” I will not be surprised or disappointed.
Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.