A man is fired from his job. Having no more options, he decides to go find work abroad, leaving behind his wife and daughter. Months pass and his family hear no word from him. A stranger, a mechanic, arrives in town in search of work. His eyes wander to the beautiful young woman whom he hears no longer has a husband. A struggle to survive of a generation torn between wanting to leave its country yet bound by blood to home. Written by
A bleak vision in a bleak environment, It's Winter gets determinedly bleaker like the onset of the cruelest season. An Iranian filmmaker who trained in London, Rafi Pitts tells a story of the barrenness of trying to scrape together an existence in an unforgiving modern world. Set in Tehran among an impoverished underclass, the lives of two men are overlapped in a fatalistic way that is reminiscent of the themes of Abel Ferrara (of whom Pitts once made a documentary): when things are really cr*p, they will generally get much worse. When the road ahead is unwelcoming and the snow is freezing, what else do you do but hunker down in our collar? Imagine trying to philosophise with someone in such a situation - their bottom line is not your ideas but whether you can put bread in their mouth.
Mokhtar, unable to find work, leaves his wife and child to find employment in more distant lands. After seeing him on to a train we pick up with another man, Marhab, at the end of his journey. The dislocation is such that it takes a while to realise that Marhab has arrived in the same area that Mokhtar has just left. Marhab is also struggling to find and keep work, but still manages to get married in a short space of time - to Mokhtar's wife (whose former husband is believed dead).
Whatever joy there is in these people's lives is consigned almost to a footnote. We are not given the excuse to believe they are really OK because they can enjoy the odd cup of soup. Such a false projection of happiness would let us off the hook too easily, whereas the reality of the such people in modern day Iran is all too realistically portrayed. An ingenious and very nihilistic coda rams home the message that there is little to look forward to - even less than hope might suggest.
Set against the austere and unwelcoming environment is a haunting and exotic song whose words mirror both the opening scenes and the sense of isolation. "They won't answer your greeting for their heads are lowered into their collars . . . for the cold is too bitter, too harsh." As well as providing a themic beauty that rises above all we see, the song maybe lends a useful insight for Westerners. Because of its strategic position, Iran (Persia) has always been the target of political machinations, but its long history had for many years - longer than many civilisations - held the promise of colourful mysteries, ancient civilisations and inexplicable ways. The latter has gradually been eroded, but the former still holds true, the present world forces being one of 'encouraging democratisation,' poverty-increasing sanctions, and demonisation as a hotbed of terrorism. Yet it is not incumbent on Iran to understand western values (except for its own survival) - it is for the West, with greater resources at its disposal, to understand Iran. Although non-political, this frosty window into a country that has become almost closed to Western eyes, easily conveys the futility of winning hearts and minds through rhetoric. In purely cinematic terms, it has a quiet, stark beauty and a fragility of construction as one character unknowingly supplants another, only to repeat a cycle that has as its end in unthinkable personal despair. It is a style that is not easy to relate to but one that is as fresh and crisp as anything that has come out of land that cinema has sometimes almost forgotten.
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