Searching for the Memories and the Glorious Past

in 10th Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival

by György Kárpáti

Iranian cinema has been in the spotlight for a while now, particularly when talking about great auteurs and masterpieces or disturbing political issues. Admiring Ashgar Faradi’s breathtaking Academy Award winning milestone (Nader and Simin, a Separation / Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) and watching Kierostami’s, Panahi’s and Neshat’s works give us such a joy, while witnessing the ban on Panahi gives us so much sadness. This year’s Golden Apricot — Yerevan International Film Festival screened a fine example of the latter’s anger in Majid Barzegar’s Parviz (which won a Silver Apricot award from the Grand Jury and also received a special mention last year in San Sebastian). A society’s rage can clearly be seen in this contemporary symbolist piece; while the silent melancholia and an unstoppable feeling of passing characterize the film The Last Winter (Zemestane akhar). Salem Salavati’s drama — which won the FIPRESCI Prize in Yerevan — takes place in rural Iran (or even Eastern-Turkey) and is about an old married Kurdish couple who are fighting against the decline of the village.

The husband was the leader of the once thriving village next to the river, but later the government built a dam and the village was partly flooded. And also due to it being the rural part of the country without any hope, and with a huge unemployment rate, the younger villagers slowly leave the area and the elders slowly pass away. The aging couple is the last of the Mohicans and the husband still has nostalgic feelings about the past and is hoping for a bright future. Meanwhile his wife is slowly becoming blind and desperately waiting for her son to come back from the army. In a later heartbreaking scene, we learn that the son died years ago in an avalanche but because his body was never found the parents do not give up hope. This hope is a dream, just like the vision of a once again blossoming village. Things become worse and worse and we can easily predict after some scenes that there won’t be a happy ending here.

Life is desperate in the rural parts of this Middle-East region and director Salavati is engaged in depicting this reality; his documentary-like filmmaking is stylish and authentic. In the first scenes we learn the daily routine of a rural village: feeding the animals, getting water, cooking, sewing, renovating the roof, wall and whatever else is needed to protect the houses from the weather, especially the snow. We see the habits and interrelations of the locals and also the fact that people here must think in a commune, helping each other the only way it is possible. While creating the authentic environment the director smartly and smoothly shows the Kurdish people’s folkways, especially the making of a nice tablecloth which is very remarkable. As detailed in the award motivation, the FIPRESCI jury admired the unique mentality of filming a specific expression of film content combined with philosophical deepness. The harmony of pictures, sound, acting and design was emphatic. And no further explanation is needed for these words after watching The Last Winter. We can even watch this Iranian jewel as a specific story or as a universal tale about similar regions and people around the world. The film carries a great message in today’s globalized world — we lose something in the fever of progressiveness and growth, something which will never come back later. From this aspect The Last Winter can also be seen as an exclamation mark but Mr. Salavati would rather make this film as a melancholic tale about the forgotten men of the plains. He expresses his story in simple shots and pictures but carefully documents everything important.

Overall, the excellent directing and storytelling and the act of the mainly amateurs actors (amazing faces, and talking heads with all the pain and distress on them) make this film really unforgettable. And with this socio-graphic motivation and solidity, The Last Winter finally succeeds because now it is sure that these people and this region will never be forgotten. Neither will the altruistically shown habits and folkways.

Edited by Steven Yates