September 14, 2016

TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL Day 7 Capsule Reviews: “Paterson” & “The Salesman”


Note:  this will be our final installment of Toronto reviews, although the festival runs on until Sunday. It’s been a good if not classic festival, with a trio of legitimately great presentations in La La Land, Jackie and Moonlight, as well as the enormously fun if not particularly artistic Sing, and other strong titles like Denial and Lion.  After a seemingly endless, vacuous summer, Oscar season seems finally to have arrived.

PATERSON (Amazon/Bleecker Street – December 28):  Jim Jarmusch has always been a minimalist, and minimalism doesn’t come much more minimal than Paterson, in which we follow a week in the life of a New Jersey bus driver whose name is the same as his town (and the same as the movie), played by Adam Driver.  He’s a drifting sort of amateur poet, whose wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) is somewhat more ambitious, in a designing shower curtains, baking cupcakes and learning how to play country music guitar kind of way.  Twins abound, for whatever that’s worth, a toy gun appears at one point, and the family dog does something naughty, and that’s about the extent of Paterson‘s drama.  The fact that Paterson doesn’t own a cell phone, hand-writes his poetry, and uses matches to light cigarettes suggests an appreciation for artisanal sensibilities, and no doubt there’s intended to be a soulfulness here that, it must be admitted, eluded the present viewer.  I was mostly rooting for the dog.

THE SALESMAN (Amazon/Cohen Media – December 9):  The Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) is a master of making the seemingly everyday into something gripping and morally complex.  His new film, which won Best Actor and Screenplay awards at Cannes, concerns Emad (Shahab Hosseini), a teacher who, with his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), is starring in a community production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.”  Emad and Rana have also moved into a new apartment, where a misunderstanding leads to injury and a rising tide of emotional violence, as Emad insists on tracking down the man who may or may not have assaulted his wife, and she retreats from him emotionally.  Farhadi, a brilliant screenwriter, escalates the tension bit by bit, even though hardly anything occurs that a Hollywood studio would consider “action.”  Societal issues regarding masculinity and the place of women are potently important even if they’re not spoken aloud.  Events and themes from Miller’s play reverberate through the central story, and it becomes increasingly clear that the film’s opening sequence, in which Emad and Rana’s old apartment building seems about to collapse around them, is a metaphor for the psychological events we’re watching.  The Salesman may not be quite as piercing or concise as A Separation, but it’s a reminder of Farhadi’s greatness all the same.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."