(14/12/06) – Iranian director Rafi Pitts has been making films nearly a decade. His third and most recent feature, It’s Winter, is also the first to enjoy a wider, British release. Coming to screens in the unfavorable Christmas period, It’s Winter is likely to be confined to a limited arthouse release and set to enjoy only a short run. Which is a regrettable prospect for a director of such stirring self-awareness. Much like the Dardenne brothers’ unassuming deconstruction of modern day Belgian reality, Pitts is a neo-documentarian of destitute Iranian life.

It’s Winter is a realist account of a disconsolate and impoverished Iranian working class. At its centre, a poverty-stricken rural family, whose humble everyday lives take an unheralded turn when the man of the family leaves behind his wife and children in hope of a better job in a better place. At much the same time, a young mechanic by the name of Marhab teeters into their lives and, with his soft-spoken courting and swaggering bad-boy arrogance, claims his place. The simple setting, reminiscent of a north-European shade of social realism, gives way to some vivid location work.

As the fate of its protagonists gradually suppresses their hopes for any kind of escape, It’s Winter slowly tempers its construction of time and place. The hopelessness of their realities is tangible in the strait-laced compositions and barren landscapes, and Pitts further accentuates this sense of desolation by infusing it with somber musical laments. "Nothing will ever be the same", cries the music, and lends the proceedings a further accent of powerlessness.

Yet there is something high-minded that drives these individuals. Their desire for a better life wrestles with the fear of the unknown, their dreams in conflict with their contentment with the modest lives they lead. Once a father, Marhab learns to tolerate the bleak reality of his day job, yet it isn’t long before his disillusionment takes over his fatherly responsibilities pulling him away from them. In a way, Marhab speaks for every Iranian belted by the aridity of the winter steppe. Whether Marhab needed a family becomes of secondary importance, his strength as a grown man playing slave to an almost child-like curiosity for discovering what’s beyond Iran.

Pitts delivers these emotional hints in timid strokes. He perfectly captures the timelessness of the rural Iranian terrain and its desolate expressions of reality, and the camera soon becomes but an un-intrusive presence in the lowly lives of these people. Pitts’ is an Iran of hushed whispers, vast landscapes, cobbled streets and rueful introspection, which he documents with an almost lethargic, long-shot approach. It’s Winter, in turn, comes across as a poetic witness to torment, a hymn to the quiet idyll of the innocence of rural life.

That’s not to say this is a masterpiece of cinematic neo-realism. For all its honesty and bone-dry realism, however, It’s Winter, I feel, lacks in emotional vibrancy. By keeping the performances minimalist and the movie as impervious as the elegant gatherings of white snow it depicts, the detached approach lends it a sense of formal coldness. Unconcerned with changing the face of cinematic reality, Pitts’ film is nonetheless a touching observation of rural Iranian reality.

It’s Winter is released in the UK tomorrow, 15 December.