It's Winter (12A)
Sunday 17 December 2006
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.
filmNymphomaniac is more Carl Dreyer than sexploitation of Russ Meyer
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
scienceScientists find the answer to a question that even puzzled Darwin
arts + entsThe 'Friends' actor on his new role as campaigner on addiction issues
Geoffrey Macnab: The Wolf of Wall Street's account of white-collar excess is A Rake’s Progress on steroids
scienceThe new development in bio-printing technology could be used in the future to restore lost vision - though years of research still await
architectureThe design collective which has stuck two fingers up at the modernists will call it quits at Venice
... But if you’re one of those poor souls offended by Jennifer Lopez’s choice of leotard, Grace Dent want you to get a bloody grip
Arts & Ents blogs
Brian Griffin returns: Cartoon dog back from the dead in Family Guy Christmas episode
Matthew Perry: He'll be there for you
Film review: Bondage, surreal interracial sex and numerous sexual encounters, but Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac is more Carl Dreyer than Russ Meyer
FAT’s all folks: Architecture’s biggest jokers sign off in style
Shia LaBeouf apologises for plagiarising cartoonist's story for Cannes short film
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Fox News presenter tells viewers it is a 'fact' that both Jesus and Santa Claus are white
You can STILL be jailed for being a republican, government confirms, and it remains illegal to even 'imagine' overthrowing the Queen
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
Fighting back: the woman giving a voice (and 49,999 others) to the victims of sexism - by giving an airing to their horror stories
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
- 1 Facebook 'self-censorship': study records when you don't post to find more ways to share
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 British prisoner Dr Abbas Khan found dead in Syrian jail days before he was due to be handed over to MP George Galloway
- 4 Vitamin pills are a waste of money, offer no health benefits and could be harmful - study
- 5 Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile
- < Previous
- Next >