It's Winter (12A)

If the title It's Winter ended in an exclamation mark, you'd be right to be wary. But this is one seasonal film you can see without fear of encountering tap-dancing penguins or Jude Law in a cosy sweater. Rafi Pitts's film is somewhat more austere - but don't let the A-word put you off, either. Please don't overlook It's Winter in the festive rush; in any season, this Iranian gem would stand out as a terrific discovery.

True to its title, It's Winter does have some beautifully atmospheric snow scenes, although only the start and end of the film take place in winter, bookending the drama cyclically. Pitts starts his film by wrong-footing us as slyly as Psycho - not entirely a facetious comparison, as this too is a kind of thriller in its way. The film starts with Mokhtar, a middle-aged man, losing his job in an industrial suburb of Tehran, then walking home through falling snow to complain to his young wife Khatoun (Mitra Hadjar) that times are hard, that he should never have listened to her advice and built a house... Then he takes a train out of town, in search of work, and promptly disappears from the drama.

Here, the story changes tack. A bus pulls into town at night, and out gets a young man named Marhab (Ali Nicksolat). He's from the north, where the weather and the work didn't agree with him, he says; he's a first-rate mechanic and he's looking for a job. By all accounts, there's not much work going here, either, but a new acquaintance helps find Marhab a place in a repair shop. Marhab seems to have landed on his feet, but he turns out to be a slacker, a congenital whinger and a pretty unreliable friend (and by the looks of it, not such a great mechanic either), and he looks certain to mess things up for himself.

Meanwhile, he takes a shine to Khatoun when he spots her out shopping, and it's not long before he starts pursuing her - or, given his way of slowly trailing her through the suburb's empty, shuttered streets, "stalking" might be a better word.

It's Winter is a fascinating hybrid. It's poetic and a little other-worldly in atmosphere, with a terse, parable-like narrative style. Yet at the same time, its setting gives it a feel of hard realism, with a documentary edge in its picture of everyday working life, notably in the scenes of Khatoun doing her daily graft at a clothing factory. There are also elements of the social scene that we don't often see in films from Iran: signs of social depression and unemployment, with shots of homeless men sleeping in underpasses.

The film is unusually trenchant too in its view of sexual relations. It's not often that Iranian films explore themes this challenging to approved social norms: a young single man pursuing, in openly predatory fashion, a married woman whose husband is off the scene. There's also a scene in which Marhab, loitering in the street at night, exchanges quizzing glances with a young woman who appears to be a prostitute.

Given that, not so long ago, serious Iranian film-makers were obliged to play safe making films about children since dealing with adult relationships was considered somewhat risky, Pitts is sticking his neck out pretty boldly. Pitts also pushes the envelope somewhat in his portrayal of Iranian men: his two male characters here are feckless, erratic, prone to blame their woes on women. Mokhtar's journey abroad in search of work proves to be self-deluding folly, as he abandons his wife, daughter and mother-in-law in pursuit of an obscure and doomed dream. The fact that, at start and finish, both Mokhtar and Marhab trudge through the snow, accompanied by the lyrical lament of the title song, suggests that when it comes down to it, they're as self-pitying, stubborn and altogether lamentable as each other.

Marhab himself is something of a departure in Iranian cinema: an anti-hero who's realistic but a touch larger than life, clearly bad news but also immensely charismatic. Getting off the bus, he's the Iranian version of those moody drifters in countless American small-town thrillers. With his slicked hair, black jeans and distinctively Brandoesque whine, he's a rebel, on the surface at least - and like so many screen cool cats, something of a nebbish when you scratch that surface. But Ali Nicksolat - like most or all of the cast, a non-professional - is a distinctively different presence in Iranian film, with a vulnerable swagger that gives the film a very specific magnetism.

This is Rafi Pitts's third fiction feature but his first to be released in Britain. His distinctive take on things might owe something to his cosmopolitan background: he was partly educated in London, worked with French director Jacques Doillon, and made a documentary about American wildman auteur Abel Ferrara, whose view of stripped-nerve male desperation may have left some trace in Marhab's character. Whether or not that's the case, Pitts has made a small masterpiece, from start to haunting, crisply concise turnaround ending.

This is one winter film that really does leave you with an artistic chill.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living