Some Poetry and a Film Clip (Iranian Cinema)

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by Susan Abraham

Captions: 1st b/w pic above is of Tehran professor, novelist & playwright, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, while below are a film clip from It’s Winter, directed by one of Iran’s new wave of contemporary film-makers, Rafi Pitts and final picture sketch of the late Persian poet, Mehdi Akhvan Sales or otherwise, popularly known as M. Omid

The poem Winter of 1955 (Tehran) written by the late Iranian poet, Mehdi Akhvan Sales or otherwise, popularly known as M. Omid was a true scholar and romantic, lauded for his quiet passions and judged as a fine contemporary Persian poet in his time.

M. Omid was enthusiastic in exploring different methods of picturing poetry and in composing new style epics and social poems.

As a matter of interest, in Iran, the winter solstice celebrated for centuries on December 21st, is called after a Syric word, Shab-e-yalda, which refers to the birthday of the sun or the renewal of its power and its rituals which once followed ancient Egyptian traditions.

This contemporary narrative piece translated by Mahvash Shahegh Hariri ,describes the winter of 1955 in Tehran. Winter of 1955 (Tehran) or called Zemestan.

“They are not going to answer your greeting, their heads are in their jackets.
Nobody is going to raise his head, to answer a question or to see a friend.
The eyes cannot see beyond the feet,
the road is dark and slick.
If you stretch a friendly hand towards anybody,
he hardly brings his hand out of his pocket,
because the cold is so bitter.
The breath which comes out of his lungs,
becomes a dark cloud, and stands like a wall in front of your eyes.
While your own breath is like this,
what do you expect from your distant or close friends?
MY gentle Messiah, O, dirty dressed monk,
the weather is so ungently cold.
You be warm and happy!
You answer my greeting and open the door!
This is me, your nightly guest, an unhappy gypsy;
this is me, a kicked up, afflicted stone,
this is me, a low insult of creation,
an untuned melody.
I am neither white nor black. I am colorless.
Come and open the door, see how cheerless I am.
O, my dear host, your nightly guest is shivering outside.
There is no hail outside, no death;
if you hear any sound, it is the sound of cold and teeth.
I have come tonight to pay up my loan.
I have come tonight to leave my debt beside my mug.
What are you saying, that, it is too late, it is dawn, it is day?
What you see on the sky, is not the redness after dawn,
it is the result of the winter’s slap,
On the sky’s cheeks.
And your universal sun, dead or alive, is hidden by the long coffin of the dark.
O, partner go and get the wine ready, the days are same as nights
They are not going to answer your greeting,
the air is gloomy, doors are closed,
the heads are in jackets, the hands are hidden,
the breaths are clouds, the people are tired and sad,
the trees are crystallized skeletons,
the earth is low-spirited the roof of the sky is low,
the sun and moon are hazy, It is winter.”

I had read that poem through several times. A sophisticated narration indeed by M. Omid. In spite of his wretched complaints of the cold, I found in reading the poem, that I may have just been studying a film reel with an engaging storytelling clip. The poem produced a strange but convincing surreal effect on me. (Caption: fr It’s Winter)

This reminds me of several Iranian films in the vein of Niki Karimi’s One Night, set in similar formats with bold plots destined to create an etheral effect. Filmmakers take advantage of the rugged landscapes by producing stunning cinematography. The script is often spartan, the plot is likely to end with an unsolved riddle and when anyone does utter lines, the renditions or supposed conversations are almost taciturn in speech.

Much of a plot is left to silent movements and facial expressions Besides, the winters in Iran are bitterly cold. Such mannerisms in comparison with the descriptions of cinema and poetry, would be familiar.

In this case, 47 year old Rafi Pitt‘s highly-applauded film, It’s Winter, – see video/trailer – spotted an isolated village setting in the outer hills and bore a striking resemblance to Winifred Holby‘s The Land of Green Ginger where the husband leaves and the outsider comes and the wife discovers, a love she has never known but faces the battle of tradition and convention.

It is shrouded by the theme signature tune, a haunting classical number, sung in Farsi. Rafi Pitts had based his script directly on a story called Safar (The Trip) written by the Iranian novelist and playright, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi currently a professor in Tehran University and who was one of the first of new wave writers in Iran to support himself primarily through writing.

Mahmoud Dowlatabadi in his younger years.

Mahmoud Dowlatabadi in his younger years.

He was self-educated, worked as a shepherd boy and later as an actor for the stage and film. He was once famously imprisoned while performing on stage.

Dowlatabadi is famed for his tales on village life. Here is another old winter poem by M. Omid, although somewhat darker, more subdued and sadder.

“Although the night has for long overwhelmed the city,
And through his dark breath has turned it into a cold, misty, and gloomy site,
And has taken away and destroyed the shadows,
I through the magic I learned from the sorcerer of my own self
Was able to hide my shadow from him.
I walked around the misty city with my shadow.
We moved here and there, In the coldest days of winter
And I could see and so could he
The raggedly-dressed youth who suddenly
Fell on the ground due to his pretentious epilepsy
For some time or so and then
Through his pretentious move fell into a gutter
Whose slime and ooze was but true.” – M. Omid

For a further engagement with this post, do watch this 2010 interview with Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, uploaded on Vimeo and courtesy of Kamran Rastegar.