International Oscar Showdown 2017: Moonlight vs The Salesman

The 89th Academy Awards winners for Best Picture and Best International Feature Film were Moonlight and The Salesman
The 89th Academy Awards winners for Best Picture and Best International Feature Film were Moonlight and The Salesman
The 89th Academy Awards winners for Best Picture and Best International Feature Film were Moonlight and The Salesman
Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight

Foster folks

Chiron is taken in by Mahershala Ali’s golden-hearted drug dealer Juan and his girlfriend Teresa, played with comforting charm by Janelle Monáe. The young boy is thereby introduced to the emotional dichotomy of being cared for by loving surrogate parents who simultaneously make their money from selling the very drugs that are destroying his mother’s mind.

Political Salesman

With Hollywood still reeling from the election of Donald Trump mere months prior to the 89th Academy Awards, many believed the 2017 Oscar winners were chosen politically. In the shadow of Trump’s travel ban from Muslim-majority countries, Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar (for Best Supporting Actor in Moonlight), while Best Documentary went to The White Helmets, about the eponymous Syrian civil defence volunteers. Furthermore, Best Foreign-Language Feature went to Iranian production The Salesman, whose director, Asghar Farhadi, boycotted the awards in disgust that his country was one of those included in the ban.

Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman

Play within a play

Without much subtlety, schoolteacher Emad also has the lead role in a Persian translation of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Indeed, poor Emad is rather typecast, portraying the same impotent frustration as Willy, the disaffected salesman, as he suffers off stage, struggling to come to terms with his wife’s apparent rape and his own inability to ameliorate her suffering. This leads to the tragic denouement of a muddled revenge — undermined by the surprise frailty of the rapist — and Rana’s insistence that Emad forgives her attacker.

Retrospective result

There’s a lot going for both these movies, so it’s hard to pick a winner. On the one hand, The Salesman is potentially more interesting with its undercurrent of socially conservative victim-blaming. On the other, Moonlight is a more visually arresting piece of work; the last shot alone — of Chiron as a boy, bathed in moonlight, his skin glowing blue — is a poignant and beautiful image.

Writer of stories, movie reviews, and sundry other whims. Also a sub-editor, so you are welcome to shout at me about typos.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store