People of Earth: If you’ve never seen a movie by Asghar Farhadi, please, why not treat yourself? The 44-year-old Iranian director, who won an Oscar for his stunning domestic thriller A Separation (2011), is a genius of tension, plot structure, and mysteries more layered than a season of Sherlock. His magnificent new piece of clockwork precision begins, tellingly, with large cracks in the walls of an apartment building. Residents Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), married theater actors costarring in a Farsi production of Death of a Salesman, move into a new place, though one where the previous occupant (a loose woman, according to neighbors’ gossip) has not cleared out all of her belongings. One night while she’s home alone, Rana is attacked by an intruder. And Emad, the next day, finds a stranger’s set of keys.
To spoil any more of the plot would be foolish. Farhadi, who directs all his films in a lucid, easy-to-follow style, carefully laces trip wires of revelation throughout the story. The former tenant, who is spoken about so much that you can practically picture her, never appears on screen. Nor does the assault against Rana. Farhadi’s female characters not only have agency but they question the patriarchy at every turn, encouraging us to check our assumptions. As the story hurtles along, we meet an old man with a weak heart (Farid Sajjadi Hosseini) and realize that the invocation of Death of a Salesman was no accident on Farhadi’s part. By the film’s shattering end, you’ll feel the spirit of Arthur Miller, one of the great dramatists of the 20th century, reaching across the transom to touch one of the great dramatists of the 21st. A