It's Winter Review
You wouldn’t know it from the name or - listening to the director speak on the extra features - from the accent either but, born in Iran in 1967 and educated and trained as a filmmaker in England, the films of Rafi Pitts are nevertheless thoroughly Iranian in subject matter, outlook and structure. Set in Tehran, among ordinary working class people and using mainly non-professional actors, It’s Winter is a beautiful and poetic meditation on how ordinary people live their lives.
It’s Winter recognises that the two important needs for most ordinary people are work and love, but observes that the two aren’t always compatible – and if you don’t have both, what do you have? This is the circumstance faced by all the characters in the film. Laid off from his job in an industrial area of Tehran, a man is forced to leave his family in the middle of winter and go abroad to look for work. He promises to send them money and, if everything works out, to send for them to join him, but months pass and they don’t hear from him. Soon after that Marhab comes to Tehran, but finds it just as difficult to obtain work there in the city. He befriends a man who gets him a job as a car mechanic, but soon finds that the way of working there doesn’t suit him. He tries to persuade his friend that there is more to life than just working to survive and to provide for one’s family – you need to live a little. He intends to get a little more from life and when one day he sees the woman who has been left by her husband, he sets his mind on getting to know her.
Based on a short story by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, It’s Winter doesn’t follow a straightforward linear path of cause and effect narrative drive, yet while being simplicity itself, the story and its themes are fully elaborated. Rather than being led by the nose, the viewer is left to feel and experience the predicament of the characters, which is conveyed much more through their environment and their manner rather than by anything they actually say. The film builds up an accumulation of detail in scenes which show each the characters going about their daily business, their work, their families, friendships - and by employing a cyclical framework, using motifs like the railway track, the passing trains (recalling Sohrab Shahid Sales’ Still Life), a police car, the passing of seasons and the chill of the winter snow, it illuminates much more about the circumstances and the nature of their lives.
Such a structure also inevitably reflects the lives people lead rather better than the more common linear narrative. Life doesn’t take a straight path and, caught up in living, you don’t usually see where you life is going until you get there, only then to realise you haven’t even really lived at all. That idea is explored in many ways in the film and the director interweaves them to remarkable effect - using poetry and music, “They won’t return your greeting/ For their heads are ducked into collars/ No-one will raise a head/ To respond or greet a friend”, making perceptive observations about how people react and interact, and supporting it all in with unforced imagery that also expresses and underlines the interior lives of the characters. The observations it makes are small but truthful ones - they may appear simplistic and obvious, but it’s often the simplest things that are hard to recognise and even harder to put across on a cinema screen.
It’s Winter is released in the UK by Artificial Eye. The film is presented on a single-layer disc in PAL format and is encoded for Region 2.
The visual presentation of the film on DVD is most impressive. It is transferred at the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is anamorphically enhanced. Clarity is wonderful, handling the white snow scenes, interiors and exteriors with mist and steam almost perfectly, with clarity and detail. The only flaw I could see was some strong edge-enhancement, but this is only noticeable in a few scenes. Presented on a single-layer disc, compression artefacts might also be an issue, depending on your setup. On a CRT display the image looked perfectly stable, but minor macroblocking issues were more noticeable on a progressive display.
The original audio track is presented as Dolby Digital 2.0 and it performs well throughout, with clarity to dialogue, music and sound effects.
English subtitles are optional and in a clear, white font.
There is only one extra feature, but as it is an extensive Interview with director Rafi Pitts (40:19), it’s a good one and covers just about everything you would expect. The director has a very clear idea of how he wants to make films and how to achieve the neorealist qualities of poetic truth he is striving for, giving a few examples of how he shot some scenes and got the performances he wanted out of the actors. At the same time he recognises the need to be flexible and open to all the possibilities that making a film presents, and would never dream of storyboarding a film down. The interview is perhaps slightly long and does get a little repetitive, but the information, coming from the director himself, is invaluable.
With Rafi Pitts’ It’s Winter, Iranian cinema again draws on the principles of Italian neorealism, using non-professional actors, being preoccupied with the lives of ordinary, working class people and the social context in which they struggle to exist. The film doesn’t have any great point to make, but it finds poetry and beauty in unusual places and that’s always something special. Artificial Eye’s DVD edition of the film is impressive, with a strong transfer and relevant and interesting supporting features.