Shahab Hosseini (left) and Taraneh Alidoosti play a married couple who work in the theater in “The Salesman.”

Oscar winner ‘The Salesman’ is a study of masculinity

One thing on Oscar night got overshadowed by the spectacular screw-up at the end of the show.

All right — yes — everything that happened on Oscar night (with the possible exception of the excellent mock-shaming of Matt Damon) was overshadowed by the chaos at the end.

Still, the award to “The Salesman” stood out. It involved a winner who wasn’t there.

When Iranian director Asghar Farhadi previously won the Foreign Language Film award, for 2012’s “A Separation,” he spoke at the Academy Awards ceremony and gave a carefully-worded statement that implicitly criticized his country’s repressive regime.

This time, Farhadi didn’t make the trip. Instead, he chose to boycott the ceremony, in protest of the U.S. government’s travel ban (currently stayed by court order) on people from certain countries, including Iran.

Farhadi conveyed a statement when “The Salesman” won the award, read by Anousheh Ansari (the world’s first female “space tourist”). He decried the travel ban, stating that “dividing the world into ‘us’ and ‘our enemies’ categories creates fear, a deceitful justification for aggression and war.”

Some observers have noted the Farhadi’s choice of words suggested he was criticizing his own government as well as America. That may be, and his declaration that movies “create empathy between us and others” was certainly universal.

In any case, his words relate directly to “The Salesman,” a film that questions the divisions between characters. The movie’s main issue is a warped concept of masculinity, an issue Farhadi explores not by appointing a single villain but by depicting the problem in context.

At the crux of the story is a teacher (Shahab Hosseini, winner of the Cannes Film Festival best actor prize) and his wife (Taraneh Alidoosti), both of whom act in a local production of “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller.

A violent incident in their new apartment sets the husband off on a mission to settle things outside the law. This leads to a few situations that are just a little cut-and-dried and not entirely plausible — but I assume one of the reasons Farhadi includes scenes from “Death of a Salesman” is to remind us that he is using large, stereotypical figures to explore ideas.

Farhadi challenges us to empathize with these difficult characters. Then again, nobody said empathy was going to be easy.

“The Salesman” (3 stars)

The Oscar-winning Best Foreign Language film is Asghar Farhadi’s study of a husband and wife reacting to an act of violence, as they perform in a production of “Death of a Salesman.” There’s something just a little cut-and-dried about the idea, but Farhadi skillfully explores the subject of warped masculinity. In Persian, with English subtitles.

Rating: PG-13, for subject matter

Opening: Friday Mar. 3 at SIFF Uptown theater

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