'Snow': Shanghai Review
Shanghai International Film Festival
Mohamad Reza Ghafari, Roya Teymurian, Afshin Hashemi
Mehdi Rahmani’s SIFF competition entry presents a view of Iran's struggling middle class for his third feature.
A solidly middle-class Tehran family sees its fortunes and status vanish overnight in Mehdi Rahmani’s Snow, a contemporary domestic drama rooted in the fragility of modern life as it is influenced by economics and appearances. Rahmani returns to the familiar family territory of his debut, The Other, in a story about an average Iranian clan grappling with subjects too many outside the country forget exist there too. Pride, fortune, ambition and personal sacrifice are among the issues that lace co-writers Hosein Mahkam, Babak Mirzakhani and Rahmani’s script. Though Snow tips over into soap opera on a few occasions it’s also a universally resonant look at financial desperation post-2008 and so should have a healthy life on the festival circuit.
Snow begins with an ominously stark and haunting cool afternoon (the piano-driven soundtrack helps) as Omid (Mohamad Reza Ghafari), a soldier on leave, arrives at his family homestead. He’s hoping to surprise his family, especially his mother Hayedeh (Roya Teymurian) with a visit. What he walks into, however, is a home on the brink of financial ruin and personal collapse and just barely holding it together for appearances' sake. His older brother, Majid (Afshin Hashemi), has blown the family’s money on crazy schemes and unspecified “deals” that went south, he’s pilfered their mother’s charity treasury and landed their father Jalil in jail. He’s also squandered his divorced sister Sara’s (Anahita Afshar), dowry, just as she’s expecting her new fiancé to arrive from his fancy BMW job in Germany to propose marriage. Worse still Jalil is being held by the police for defaulting on one of Majid’s loans and he’s waiting for bail money. Everyone’s on edge, but Sara’s impending nuptials lighten the mood, and when her closest friend Khatereh (Mina Sadat) shows up to lend a hand a giddy kind of happiness settles over the house for a while.
To this point Snow has the familiar ring of family melodrama, replete with minor squabbling, finger-pointing and simmering resentments. The temptation will be to draw comparisons with the recent The Past, but that film’s central characters are too sprawling and too loosely connected (on some levels). The family here is much tighter, more directly linked, and it allows for a level of bluntness and anger that can only be shared by those closest to us. As the day (and the film) wears on, the accusations and money issues become more pressing (the bank is on the verge of putting a humiliating foreclosure banner on the house). Omid becomes increasingly furious with Majid, who in turn lets his own frustration explode, Hayedeh increasingly distraught, particularly after a visit from a neighbor asking after the missing charity money for another woman’s engagement, while Sara flits around unconcerned about anything except her future husband. In a telling (if not terribly subtle) scene Majid is driven to hide in his room by his shame to hang out with his pet hamster, which is naturally spinning in its wheel.
When the family elder, Hayedeh’s mother-in-law (Rabe Madani) finally shows up she has a calming effect in the immediate term, as she takes control, promises to negotiate with Sara’s fiancé and otherwise handles the thorny issues that are causing all the drama. The ugly truths the family is dealing with finally rise to the surface when Khatereh commits a single, nearly devastating act that shifts the dynamic—maybe for the better—and Sara’s ex-husband Hamed (Milad Keymaram) shows up to call in a debt at the wrong time. Nonetheless his presence acts as the catalyst for some real honesty from Sara.
With the exception of the more colorful interior of the house, there’s a suitably gray pall that hovers over the action and the family and the story ends on a realistically downbeat note; Jalil and Sara's fiancé loom large in their absence. Performances are solid across the board, particularly Afshar as the aspirational Sara, who brings a recognizable edge to a young woman who just wants a taste of the finer things in life.
Cast: Mohamad Reza Ghafari, Roya Teymurian, Afshin Hashemi, Rabe Madani, Anahita Afshar, Mina Sadat, Milad Keymaram, Shirin Yazdanbakhsh
Director: Mehdi Rahmani
Screenwriter: Hosein Mahkam, Babak Mirzakhani, Mehdi Rahmani
Producer: Mehdi Rahmani
Director of photography: Amin Ja’fari
Production designer: Mehdi Rahmani
Costume designer: Vida Roshani
Editor: Hasan Hassandoost
Music: Babak Mirzakhani
Sales: Iran Novin Film
No rating, 86 minutes
Sundance: On the Scene