Yousef (Amin Hayayee) is a rugged, quiet and introspective veterinary doctor living on his own his in very small village, somewhere in rural Iran. The season is winter and the landscape is white with snow. Yousef ‘s body is far less sightly: it is covered in horrific burns, still healing, the consequence of a tragic fire in which he attempted to save his cherished bovine patients. His wife abandoned him because she could not handle the weight of caring for wounds and facing his disfigurement. Local environmentalist Rana (Ladan Mostofi) heartbreakingly advises him: “sometimes departing is a gesture of love because you leave the good memories intact”. The lonely divorcee instead devotes his love to the cows and sheep. The images of Yousef giving medicine, assisting birth and even euthanising the animals are honest, graphic and moving, without lapsing into graphic voyeurism and animal exploitation.
He does, however, hold a grudge against wolves. That’s because his best friend Khalil (Majid Salehi) believes that his daughter Khorshid was devoured by a pack of such animals owned by Rana. Yousef shoots one of her wolves with a rifle. The wounded animal survives. This gesture that will come back to haunt Yousef in more ways than one. Khalil’s wife isn’t entirely convinced that their daughter was devoured by the wild canines. Secrets begin to surface. Her disappearance may in fact have been related to forced marriage threats and parental failings. The desperate Khalil could be either self-denying or shifting the blame towards the poor animals. Or maybe not. Nothing is as simple as it seems. The Last Snow boasts multidimensional protagonists, while also shunning facile Manichaen devices (the battle of the good versus the bad guys). A simple story with complex and profound characters.
Villagers side with Khalil. He leads an angry mob, which storms the police station with sheep carcasses (presumably killed by the wolves) and the threat to shoot down the predators. The officer in charge explains that killing a wolf is a criminal offence that could land them in jail. So people direct their indignation at the well-intentioned Rana, who wishes to rescue the wolves from the brink of extinction in the region. Animals become casualties of our deranged ambitions and frustrations. A real battle of compassion versus pragmatism. Humanity versus animal rights. Beneath his rough appearance, Yousef is a thoughtful and solicitous human being stuck in the middle of all of these conflicts.
Magnificently shot with abundant extreme wide shots of the bitter cold, rural vastness as well as detailed close-ups of the expressive characters, The Last Snow is a masterpiece of meditative and poetic cinema. It combines the humanistic sensibility of Iranian cinema with straightforward and realistic photography of the landscape and human beings alike. The performances are propitiously enrapturing, particularly those of Hayayee and Mostofi.. And the dialogues are peppered with little gems of popular knowledge and philosophy. A luminescent movie. Open your eyes wide and allow yourself to go snow-blind.
The Last Snow showed at the 3rd Red Sea International Film Festival. It premiered at the 40th Fajr Film Festival in Iran (the youngest such event in the world to hold Fiapf a-list accreditation)