First to screen in the collection is Pitts’ 2000 film Sanam (also released separately on DVD for the first time), described by one critic as “The Iranian 400 Blows“. Although comparisons with Truffaut’s New Wave masterpiece are perhaps bordering on the hyperbolic, the performance of lead actor Ismaïl Amani, as the fatherless Issa, is undeniably exceptional. Having witnessed the shooting of his father, an accused horse thief, at the beginning of the film, Issa is forced to step up as the father of the house, helping his mother to earn a living my assisting in the harvest on the edge of town. However, Issa is more interested in clearing his father’s name, devoting time to identifying the horse that he claimed was his own. Sumptuously shot, sprawling and with a tangible sense of desperation sewn throughout, Pitts’ second feature is almost certainly his best to date.
Pitts followed Sanam with It’s Winter, premiering in competition at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival. Tonally similar, though wildly different in terms of visuals to his previous outing, It’s Winter explores the migratory lives of workers in Iran’s coldest climes. Ali Nicsolat plays the charismatic drifter Marhab, who arrives in town shortly after as the unemployed Mokhtar (Ashem Abdi), husband to Khatoun (Mitra Hadjar), leaves to find work.
During the six month period that Mokhtar is away, Marhab falls for the man’s stoic, austere wife, yet himself fails to hold down a living in his role at a local garage. With few prospects anywhere, romance is ultimately stifled by the lack of opportunities and icy conditions. Whilst not as compelling as either Sanam or the proceeding The Hunter, Pitt succeeds in presenting life in a rarely seen region of Iran, away from the politics of Tehran, yet still suffering from its economic mismanagement.
The final film in this collection is the aforementioned The Hunter – Pitts’ last feature to date – where the filmmaker also stars as central protagonist Ali. Following the death of his wife and child, caught in a crossfire at a political rally, Ali decides to take out his revenge on the Tehran police force, shooting two officers with his long range hunting rifle. Now a wanted ‘cop killer’, Ali is pursued through the city’s surrounding forests by two officers, one dead-set on murdering the widower for his crimes. Easily Pitts most politically overt film to date, The Hunter only really slips into a generic thriller narrative in the final third after some patient (perhaps overly languid) exposition. Once again, the Iranian director focuses his camera on the plight of the struggling male, unable to change shifts at work to spend time with his family, finally pushed over the edge into Falling Down (1993) territory, though his brush strokes here are far broader than any of his previous works.
As an introduction to the work of a noteworthy filmmaker, The Rafi Pitts Collection is a more than adequate package, which fans of Pitts will have been awaiting for some time. Whilst none of the films included are certifiable with ‘masterpiece status’ (his best is hopefully still to come), Pitts has already come some way to establishing himself as one of Iran’s most assured, authorial voices.
The Rafi Pitts Collection is available to own on DVD from 28 May, courtesy of Artificial Eye.