IT’S WINTER (Rafi Pitts, 2006)

Writer-director Rafi Pitts (New Voices/New Visions prize, Palm Springs) has turned Mahmoud Dowlatabadi’s story “Safar” into an assured piece of visionary cinema—one that captures both a rhythm of life and the depth of despair and alienation in one segment of today’s Iran, an economically stressed industrial suburb. Its joint protagonists, one who has left town to find desperately needed work and another who has come to the same town in a desperate attempt to find work, are each identified with the other on another score: Mokhtar has temporarily abandoned his younger wife, Khatoun, and their little girl for his offscreen pursuit of employment and wages; Marhab, a clumsy worker who nonetheless boasts he can “fix anything,” is attracted to Khatoun. When Mokhtar leaves, it is bleak winter; when he returns, it is the next winter, he is missing a leg, and he cannot return home, still having no money, and Marhab now having “taken” Khatoun. Pride prevents Mokhtar’s even seeing his daughter. One thing more must be noted: it is Khatoun, we learn, who insisted that they build their house rather than—Mokhtar’s preference—invest their money. Mokhtar feels doubly left out in the cold.
     Zemestan is a mournful, unsentimental portrait of an undone family. Nor can another family replace it, for Marhab’s prospects scarcely exceed what Mokhtar’s were. Youth bestows on Marhab little more than pluck and edgy expectations. One would not be going too far to glean from the believability of Pitts’s film that Iran, as it is now constituted, is a doomed nation. Wedded to her sewing machine and her work ethic, only Khatoun, as well as her daughter, seems to have a future—in an Iran yet to be.
     Mohammad Davudi’s fine color cinematography took prizes at Valladolid and Fajr.

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