Set in an unforgiving, decaying winter land of Iran, writer-director Rafi Pitts’ complex film conceals underneath the harsh exterior a tender story of love and redemption. “It’s Winter” is based on a novel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, and Pitts has wisely chosen the intimate, neorealist aesthetic of the late master filmmaker Robert Bresson whose films thoughtfully mediated on the everyday struggle of the working class. Like Bresson and his Belgian successors, the Dardenne brothers, Rafi Pitts extracts authentic performances from his small group of non-professional actors; the naturalistic acting make each character count and helps to endear this Farsi language film.
“It’s Winter” begins with a solemn plainsong that warns us “the cold is too bitter, too harsh.” Although it is not clear what period the film is set in allusions to present day Iran are undeniable: since there are virtually no jobs for many men the only way to sustain their families is to emigrate. But, leaving behind loved ones, your home, your country has consequences. In one scene a character looks up at an airplane with sad eyes — it’s a bitter reminder of an impossible escape from bleakness. Still, the men nobly reassure each other that better times will come.
Our hero is Marhab (Ali Nicksolat), a vagabond who drags himself into a deprecating restaurant asking for food (there isn’t any); the sympathetic owner allows him a bed to spend the night. The next morning Marhab makes a friend — he confides in this young mechanic that “I am like a gypsy, always on the move.” Marhab is not a local, that much is clear; his carefully slicked back hair and effortless James Dean charm sets him at sharp contrast to the weary townsfolk who have all but accepted a miserable life. When he finally lands a job the poor fellow is not paid for two months because the owner cannot or will not honour the employment. Frustrated and disillusioned, the rebellious Marhab begins to direct his attentions to Khatoun (Mitra Hadjar), a married woman whose husband has left her and their little girl to find work aboard. (Because he never sends them money, mother and daughter are eventually forced to sell their furniture for basic sustenance.) Marhab who is smitten by the elegant Khatoun begins to follow her; he sits outside her house staring intently into the building imagining a life with her. When learning of the death of Khatoun’s husband, Marhab — in a memorable scene — finally musters the courage to reveal his affections in earnest. We nod in agreement when they are married. It is appears the sensible thing to do. But is Marhab — who “prefers a good time” to hard work and who has, we assume, so far eluded responsibility — ready to be a faithful husband, is he prepared to play a good father? An important event in the final act of the film (which I dare not reveal) may require Marhab to reconsider his position. We know as he does that this time any decision made affects several lives. Despite himself, can the selfish Marhab stand by his family in the face of a harsh, metaphorical winter? The film now becomes about Marhab’s moral dilemma.
On a technical level, “It’s Winter” is stunning. Director Rafi Pitts who studied Film and Photography in London has a very sophisticated skill of visual composition. He utilises Mohammad Davoodi’s cinematography to an incredible effect. I wish I could describe the absolute exquisiteness of seeing quiet, swirling red police sirens against a snowy winter landscape; words simply cannot do the imagery in the film justice. “It’s Winter” is a perfect film; a great film. It’s a beautiful and delicate portrait of a person, and of a people.
- by Adnan Khan [Rated 5 out of 5]