Downbeat mood piece set among the working-class poor on the outskirts of Tehran. Never stirring the viewer's emotions, this bleak character study remains a brooding song of sadness with limited appeal outside of fests. It should nonetheless benefit from critical support, thanks to its visual beauty and sensitive portrayal of an out-of-work drifter.

A downbeat mood piece set among the working-class poor on the outskirts of Tehran, “It’s Winter” is a delicate cinematic poem too cold to catch fire. Never stirring the viewer’s emotions, this bleak character study remains a brooding song of sadness with limited appeal outside of fests. It should nonetheless benefit from critical support, thanks to its visual beauty and sensitive portrayal of an out-of-work drifter who falls for a beautiful young widow.

Young helmer Rafi Pitts (“Season Five,” “Sanam”) takes a classic approach to Iranian realism, using non-professional actors performing actual jobs on location to ground the story in a real-life environment. At the same time his glancing, indirect method of storytelling lends his work a refined aesthetic appeal, seconded by painstakingly beautiful photography. This is the kind of haiku-like filmmaking most concerned with striking exactly the right note.

The story is bracketed by rhyming scenes of men struggling through a timeless snowbound landscape, near the spot where Mokhtar (Ashem Abdi) has a lonely house by the railroad tracks. As film opens he is leaving his young wife, Khatoun (Mitra Hadjar), and small daughter (Zahra Jafari) to seek work abroad. In this hungry, poverty-stricken world, immigration is clung to like a last hope, however illusory. One day the police drive up to tell Khatoun her husband is dead.

Not long before, Marhab (Ali Nicksolat) drifts into the neighborhood. The only job he can scrounge is working practically without pay in a garage. A trained mechanic, he’s looking for something more out of life than keeping his nose to the grindstone. When his path crosses Khatoun’s, he begins to follow her around in a timid courtship.

Adapting the tale from a novel by celebrated writer Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, Pitts gives it a timeless quality by stripping out dialogue and everything superfluous. Nicksolat, a nice guy with sideburns, brings a spark of rebellious spirit to the non-pro cast. The lovely Hadjar, a working mother who seems at first to be modesty and reserve personified, also steps out of the stereotype when she confronts the love-struck Marhab and makes a choice for her and her daughter’s future.

Mohammad Davoodi’s stunning lensing is soft yet precise, with a preference for long shots that locate tiny human figures in wide-open landscapes that seem to engulf them. Although the story itself is terribly static, editor Hassan Hassandoost gives the images a pleasing poetic rhythm. A wrenchingly sad poem by Mehdi Akhavan Saless is scored to delicate string music credited to Hossein Alizadeh and Mohammad Reza Shajarian.

It's Winter

Iran

Production

An AMA Media production. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced by Mohammad Mehdi Dadgoo. Executive producer, Fereshteh Taerpour. Directed and written by Rafi Pitts, based on the novel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi.

Crew

Camera (color), Mohammad Davoodi; editor, Hassan Hassandoost; music, Hossein Alizadeh, Mohammad Reza Shajarian; production designer, Malak D. Khazai; sound (Dolby SR), Yadollah Nadjafi, Naser Shokohinia. Reviewed at Berlin film festival (competing), Feb. 13, 2006. 83 MIN.

With

Khatoun - Mitra Hadjar Marhab - Ali Nicksolat Ali Reza - Saeed Orkani Mokhtar - Ashem Abdi
With: Zahra Jafari, Naser Madahi, Safari Ghassemi.

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