Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Zemestan (The winter) And A New Way To Watch Movies

Some of you may be familiar with the fact that there are more than a few ways to legally download and watch/rent movies online (cinemanow.com and a couple of others). The selections are however pretty mainstream and for someone like me who likes to watch offbeat or serious cinema (those times when my tastes are not down in the dumps that is) the options despite the presence of the excellent Bryn Mawr Film Institute theater close by are rather limited. So I have been rather enthusiastic since I read the NYTimes piece about legal movie downloads from sites such as Jaman.com, joost.com and greencine.com that have documentaries and independent and international cinema.

I have been meaning to pick a movie and watch and finally managed to do this weekend from Jaman.com. You can’t really rent a movie and watch it on your TV unless you purchase it. So you are stuck with watching it on the computer monitor unless you set up a contraption to hook it up to your TV. So we watched the movie on A’s apple computer,
she has one of those with a decent sized screen.

The movie picked was Zemestan, I have never seen an Iranian movie and the story and the fact that the movie has been making the tour of the film festival circuit intrigued me.
Oh and before I go on about the movie, a note about the quality of the video. I would say it was really good it is not DVD quality but pretty good. That the film is visually quite stunning does not hurt either. It must have taken over an hour to download over *A*’s wireless connection and Jaman lets you watch the movie for up to 7 days.

Clip from the movie below.

It's Winter (Zemestan)

Should you stretch out a hand
They won’t stretch one back
For the cold is too harsh..too bitter
The breath coming out of your chest
Turns in to a dark cloud
That stands before your eyes
Like a dark cloud
What do you expect from your close or distant friends
Air is gloomy , heads ducked in to collars
People worn out..heavy hearted
The trees nothing but crystallized skeletons.

The lines above are from a song that plays a few times (in Farsi) during the course of the movie. The words talk about a tough harsh existence in winter, but it is about more than winter in this movie set in an industrial town in Iran where everything seems to be in a decrepit state with battered cars, trucks and factories. Both the people and their surroundings appear to be struggling and just getting by.

It is against this backdrop that the movie unfolds as one man decides to leave town as the shop that he works at closes for good. He leaves behind his wife Khatoun (played well by
Mitra Hajjar) and his daughter (Zahra Jafari) and her grandmother (Safari Ghassemi). There is not much work to be found in town he explains and he must go abroad to make more money and takes the train out of town. Not a lot is said in fact the movie has pretty sparse dialogue and uses emotions conveyed by some very talented actors to achieve its aim.

As the man leaves a drifter arrives in town. Marhab (Ali Nicksaulat) is a mechanic homeless and an orphan. He wants to work (but does not always seem inclined) and is on the lookout for a better life. He claims to be able to fix anything and with the help of someone he befriends at the local restaurant he finds a job at the local auto shop. His eyes fall on Khatoun and he starts to woo her. We are talking about wooing here not in the western or bollywood style. He marries her but he is soon disappointed, his poor work habits, a boss who does not pay him and he is soon picking fights with the only other friend he has. His attempts to find another job in town draw a blank, and he starts thinking about leaving town, even as the Khatoun’s first husband returns penniless and broken. Does he try to reclaim what was his and he left behind? Can he gather the courage to face his family? Does Marhab leave town?

One of the things that stood out for me was the portrayal of Khatoun’s daughter, I believe
Zahra Jafari has no lines, but she acts with her face and eyes and to me that was a very moving portrayal of a child abandoned once and now facing abandonment again by a parent. I liked the visual style of the film, the depiction of a barely surviving grimy town, the cold harsh winter and the often bare, simple interiors of the simple house that belongs to the family of the little girl frame the mood of the movie very well. The long shots, often of the principals walking alone thru long empty lanes of the town or the railroad tracks are nice, I wonder if they are meant as metaphors for lonely journeys thru life or a sense of being overwhelmed by an environment beyond their control.

The scenes of the industrial town will remind some of you familiar with India of similar scenes from that country. This movie offers an incisive look at the struggles of the Iranian working class, and if this is a commentary about the failure of the Iranian revolution in it’s failure to help its citizenry live a better life it is done pretty well given the shackles that the clerics and their cohorts have placed on their people.


Enyur said...

Hello! (I know, I know, long time no see...yeah I kind of disappeared but I'm sort of back now :o)

And this movie really sounds interesting! I've never heard of Jaman.com I think I'll check that out too! Thanks!

Hope you're doing well!

Lotus Reads said...

I love foreign movies, Sanjay and having lived in Dubai for a while I have been lucky to see more than a few Iranian movies, most of which were absolutely wonderful! I find Iranian film makers are the masters of allegory. I remember reading somewhere they perfected the art of allegory during the reign of Khoemeini where so many restrictions were placed on what could or couldn't be shown in the movies.

I do like the idea of watching movies on my computer screen so I will have to check out Jaman and maybe I will watch the same movie you and *A* did...what you had to say about it has definitely sparked my interest!

starry nights said...

Sanjay thanks for sharing those movie links.I like watching foreign movies and off beat movies.I think I will download the same movie.the review sounds interesting.

Orchid said...

I have a long list of foreign movies lined for for netflix...will add yoru recommendations too..thanks for the review

Sanjay said...

@Enyur.. Indeed long time no? Glad to see you back, hope all is fine? I am doing fine, I hope to visit a lot of blogs that I have been falling behind on. Thank you, I think if you like offbeat indie/foreign movies you will like Jaman.

Sanjay said...

@Lotus. Hey there how are you? :-)
You are indeed well traveled, well read and so familiar with various cultures, that I often look to you for insights on matters related to these.

And you come through yet again with a great point about how Iranian film makers have managed to use allegory to get around the religious nuts.

The experience of watching movies on a computer screen may not appeal to all, but it does make for a more intimate viewing experience. Good luck checking out Jaman, I hope you like it as well as Zemestan.

Thank you so very much for your comment.

Sanjay said...

@Starry Nights. Thank you much for your comment. I hope you like the website and the movie. I am sorry I have not been at your site lately but will do so soon.

@Orchid. Thank you very much. Netflix will also soon be offering online movie rentals. I hope to stop by your blog soon.

Anali said...

Thanks for the information! I've never heard of any of these websites, but I'm going to look at them.

moegirl said...

Thanks for the tip on finding some off the beaten path movies. The Iranian film sounds fascinating.

Aditi said...

even if i dont get around to seeing the movie... i will atleast have read abt it here
although i will hope to watch it

Sanjay said...

@Anali, Thank you. I hope you find something you like.

@Moegirl. Thank you. I found the movie very engrossing. Nice understated way of getting the message across and visually the film was very appealing.

@Aditi. Welcome back to the blog world. I hope you get to watch the movie.

Diana said...

I'm hoping all this continues to lead to more 'non-mainstream' films being availiable to us, maybe even sources like Netflix will see that there's a need for a wide variety of films like this.

Id it is said...

Thanks. I'll definitely check this one out,Jaman.com or otherwise, hehe

NainaAshley said...


Thanks for descibing the movie. It sounds wonderful. I hardly ever get to watch many movies but I'll at least have read about them.

Keshi said...

Jay matey now u've become a movie buff? :)


Sai said...

First of all thanks for sharing cool links. K and I love to watch off-beat movies. Thanks for sharing the link as well as the movie review.