Posted June 6, 2012 by Jonathan McCalmont in DVD/Blu-ray
 
 

The Rafi Pitts Collection


Given that the Western war machine is currently casting about for reasons to invade Iran, now seems the perfect time to remind ourselves that Iran and its people are far more than a punch line for the joke that is Western hegemonic decline.

Given that the Western war machine is currently casting about for
reasons to invade Iran, now seems the perfect time to remind ourselves that
Iran and its people are far more than a punch line for the joke that is Western
hegemonic decline.
Born in Tehran but educated in France and Britain, Rafi Pitts may be too much of an émigré
to speak authentically for the people of Iran but the sheer beauty and
poignancy of his words make him a delight to listen to.

The first film included in the
collection is pretty much exactly what you would expect from a work of ‘world
cinema’. Set in the Iranian countryside, Sanam
tells the story of a young boy who sees his father shot as a horse thief.
Refusing to accept that his father might have been a thief, the boy convinces
himself that the horse actually belonged to his father and that the local
authorities shot him in order to steal it for themselves. As time passes, this
comforting conspiracy theory comes to drive the boy’s sense of dissatisfaction
with the society around him, a sense of dissatisfaction that drives him further
and further down his father’s path. Shot amidst stunning mountains and
featuring a green, black and red colour scheme reminiscent of the Iranian flag,
Sanam is visually arresting but ultimately a little bit too generic to be
entirely memorable. Thankfully, Pitts’ second film is an
entirely different beast.

Set against an almost
post-apocalyptic landscape of urban decay and economic hardship, It’s Winter is an intensely humane
examination of human frailty placed under impossible pressure. The main
character is a happy wanderer who moves from place to place looking for work
when all he really wants is to lead a reasonable life. However, when a
reasonable life does present itself, he still finds it impossible to be happy.
As Pitts himself puts it in the fantastic interview included on the disc,
politicians would like us to hate people who turn their backs on economic
security for the sake of their dignity but while Pitts’ character is quite
clearly a flawed human being, his humanity still burns and that burning just
makes him all the more sympathetic. Based on a work of Iranian literature and
shot through with quoted poetry and song-lyrics, It’s Winter offers a vision of
contemporary Iran that is both novel and heart breaking.

Despite looking and feeling very
different, both Sanam and It’s Winter share a common understanding of
contemporary Iran. Indeed, while both films stress the broken humanity of the
Iranian people, both films also suggest that these are people placed under
almost intolerable pressure by the system that surrounds them. Sanam represents
this system using faceless black riders who mercilessly gun down anyone who
refuses to know their place whereas It’s Winter makes the system seem as
unavoidable and irresistible as the seasons. Pitts’ most recent and most
successful film draws on both of these depictions but combines them with a
vision of 1970s America to provide us with a devastating portrait of a society
that is coming apart at the seams.

The Hunter tells of a reformed criminal struggling to find
salvation in the role of husband and father. The problem is that, while the
film’s protagonist is quite content to go straight as long as he can spend time
with his family, his employers use his criminal past as an excuse to make him
work nights thereby ensuring that he rarely gets to see his family. When
something terrible happens and the man’s family disappears, the man
understandably goes nuts and begins hunting Iranian policemen. At this point,
the film transitions from being an account of social injustice to being a tense
paranoid thriller in the style of Taxi
Driver
and The Parallax View.
Just as beautifully shot as Pitts’ earlier films, The Hunter juxtaposes the
cold urban landscapes of It’s Winter with the warm naturalism of Sanam only to
find that the Iranian police will chase you down through both sets of
landscapes. Intriguingly, the film’s ending obliquely hints at the possibility
of future uprisings. How much mistreatment will the Iranian people endure
before, much like the hunter, they snap?

While Sanam is noticeably weaker
and more generic than the other two films in the collection, this is
nonetheless an excellent box set to own. Pitts is a thoughtful and skilled
filmmaker with an eye for beauty and a real taste for the ambiguities of the
human spirit. While it is somewhat regrettable that Pitts’ excellent first film
The Fifth Season is not included as
part of the collection, this remains an excellent platform from which to
discover the joys of Iranian cinema.


Jonathan McCalmont