2003Director: Jafar Panahi
Cast: Hossain Emadeddin, Pourang Nakhael, Azita Rayeji
rimson Gold begins with a gripping, violent jewelry store robbery, an uncharacteristically exciting opening for a modern Iranian film. However, director Jafar Panahi doesn’t try to capture the action; his camera sits stationary, and our protagonist moves awkwardly in and out of frame. We can hardly see his face.
The scene ends tragically, a botched robbery leading to the murder of the store clerk and the suicide of our protagonist. This preface is merely a newspaper headline, based on a real-life incident; Panahi and screenwriter Abbas Kiarostami—the godfather of Iranian cinema and one of the world’s most important filmmakers—want to explore the emotional and social causes of this act of violence. The rest of Crimson Gold is a methodically-paced flashback leading up to the robbery.
The protagonist's name is Hussein (Hossain Emadeddin), and his looks refute every archetype of a thief presented to us by American cinema. Quiet, mournful, and obese, Hussein wears his humiliation like a birthmark, riding the streets of Tehran on a motorcycle, practicing the most democratic of professions: pizza delivery.
Hussein delivers to every cross-section of Tehrani society, and his interactions with customers illustrate a downbeat portrait of Iran’s complex social strata. Crimson Gold has been referred to on the festival circuit as an Iranian Taxi Driver, but Hussein is no Travis Bickle; as weathered as his urban psyche may be—despite many failed attempts at dodging his society’s humiliating hurdles—he passes no judgment on the character of his many varied acquaintances.
In one of the film’s pivotal scenes, Hussein accepts the invitation of a wealthy bachelor—in need of “an ear” to which he can preach about modern women and their shortcomings—to bring the pizzas into his opulent condominium. This taste of wealth, presumably, pushes him over the edge. If Crimson Gold‘s opening scene documents a last-ditch attempt, then the remainder of the film is a study of Hussein the ditch-digger.
Panahi and Kiarostami are no strangers to both veiled (The White Balloon) and overt (The Circle) social commentary, and though Crimson Gold lacks the soul-searching power of Kiarostami’s directorial efforts—and Hussein, for reasons inherent in his character, is not always a particularly engaging protagonist—it effectively portrays a quiet man on the fringes of society, learning tragically to accept his fate.
By: Akiva Gottlieb
Published on: 2004-02-06