Crimson Gold

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews Robin Clifford 
Crimson Gold (Talaye sorkh)
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews Laura Clifford 
A large man wearing a ski mask rushes the owner of an exclusive jewelry store and threatens him at gunpoint, pushing the jeweler off camera. A shot rings out, a car alarm sounds and a crowd gathers. The robber, in silhouette, stands at the door of the jeweler’s and the crowd nervously draws back. Suddenly, he puts the gun to his head and…this is the beginning of Iranian director Jafar Pinahi’s “Crimson Gold.”

Pinahi, working a script by Iranian film maestro Abbas Kiarostami, tells the story of its taciturn pizza delivery guy. Hussein (Hossain Emadeddin), overweight for medical reasons, struggles to make ends meet. He is engaged to his friend, Ali’s (Kamyar Sheisi), sister but he can’t even afford the simplest ring for his bride (Azita Reyeji). When Ali finds an expensive purse they go though its contents and Hussein finds a receipt for a necklace worth 75 millions rials – more money than Hussein or Ali will ever see in their life. In fact, they are so destitute that Hussein’s fiancée suggests they rent the ring for the marriage ceremony – for appearance sake.

As Hussein goes about his delivery routine he becomes increasingly cognizant of the disparity between his life and circumstance and those to whom he delivers his pizzas. He realizes that Iran is a country of haves and have nots and he is one of the latter. One day Hussein, his bride to be and Ali get dressed up in their finest and visit the jewelry store from the receipt. The owner of the exclusive uptown store spots them as posers right away and advises them to go to a more “affordable” store in the poorer part of town. Thus humiliated, Hussein decides to take economic matters into his own hands and “Crimson Gold” comes full circle.

This is a simple story about a simple man trying to get by in modern day Iran. Hussein has seen his country undergo enormous changes over the years. Much younger Ali questions him about a time when “women went around naked” (without veils) and Hussein realizes how bottom of the barrel his life is. His desperate life calls for desperate measures.

Pinahi keeps things moving with Hussein shuttling around the city on his delivery motorcycle. Lenser Hossein Djafarian keeps his camera mobile with Hussein often framed through the small window in his bike’s windshield, giving the man a sinister look that is underscored by Hossain Emadeddin’s menacing girth and ever-present scowl. The director, with his simple tale, underscores the economic disparity in Iran and its emotional impact on a person like Hussein with an unblinking eye.

Iran has developed one of the world’s most thriving independent film industries that consistently turns out good, sometime great product. Jafar Panahi’s “Crimson Gold” is a worthy entry into the pantheon of that country’s contribution to the art of filmmaking. I give it a B.

Pizza deliveryman Ali (Kamyar Sheisi) finds a receipt for a woman's necklace and he and best friend Hussein (real life schizophrenic and pizza delivery man Hossain Emadeddin) are flabbergasted by its cost.  They visit the jewelry store, located in a wealthy section of Teheran, but the owner refuses them entrance.  This slight and the occurrences of the day set off a rage in Hussein that will end with the jeweler's wares becoming "Crimson Gold."

Panahi's latest film about the downtrodden of Iran explores the humiliations of class distinction. While not as cinematically lush as his last film, "The Circle," Panahi's collaboration with Abbas Kiarostami (the writer/director of "Ten" and "The Wind Will Carry Us" acts as screenwriter here) results, not surprisingly, in a thought provoking film.

Beginning at the end, a static camera records Hussein's killing of an old jeweler (Shahram Vaziri) before he turns the gun on himself.  The gated entrance to the jewelry store acts as a societal barrier which now imprisons Hussein in the world he unsuccessfully tried to enter. Outside, a crowd forms and Hussein's best friend, Ali, screams in an attempt to avert tragedy.

Jumping back to catalog the events which led up to this horrific scene, we find the lumpen, unsmiling Hussein with Ali in a cafe.  As Ali goes through a woman's pocketbook, another man delivers a lecture to them about considering the consequences of one's actions, questioning the morality of traumatizing a woman for pocket change.  Driving off on their delivery moped, Ali comments that now he's looking at the purses, not the women.

Hussein's first pizza delivery delivers two indignities.  First, a broken elevator means he has to climb four flights of stairs.  Then, when he recognizes his customer as an old friend, the guy hustles him out, hastily adding more cash to the lousy 3% tip he'd initially given him.  His next outing is aborted by police, who have barricaded a building entrance to snag the young people illegally dancing and drinking inside as they leave (Panahi's protagonist is an outsider looking in at a different lifestyle, like one of the women of "The Circle" observing a hotel wedding).  An officer observes 'their kind sleeps during the day - at 4 a.m. they do that,' making the young, rebellious Iranians sound vampiric.  The cops end up with the pies.

Still obsessed with the luxurious goods they'd not been allowed to shop for, Ali suggests to Hussein that if they dress up in their best clothes, they might gain entry.  Hussein thinks he may be able to buy something for his fiancee (Azita Rayeji), Ali's modest sister.  The trio are admitted entrance, but quickly alert the owner to their status by declaring the gold of India and Pakistan 'chic.'  Sniffing that he only carries Italian and Iranian gold, the owner once again recommends they shop in the cheaper, lower class section of town.  In contrast to the western-influenced kids Hussein observed the night before, his innocent young bride frets that they were treated shabbily because she had dared to lift her shawl.  Hussein's final contact with the better off comes when a wealthy young man (Pourang Nakhael), depressed over a romantic breakup, invites Hussein in to share his pizza.  Hussein is astounded to see a man no older than himself living in such luxury that his home features an indoor swimming pool.

"Crimson Gold" was sparked by a true incident which troubled the director (in an interview, he also mentions a situation similar to his party scene where a young couple were shot at by police, killing the boy) and, in adapting the idea, Panahi has presented Teheran as a city of extremes.  Unlike Bahram Badakshani's fluid camera in "The Circle," cinematographer Hossein Djafarian ("Under the Skin of the City") favors more static shots, so that when his camera does move, it gives the scene a particular jolt.  Djafarian gets a great shot of Ali and Hussein buzzing over a bridge, symbolic of the gulf in Iranian society.  The oval cutout of the moped's windshield frames Hussein's face in a sinister way when observed straight on.  Later, when the man enters the high class shop, he floats against a pitch black background, like a stone on a jeweler's display.

"Crimson Gold" shows the world a different side of Iranian life, but its human story is universally relevant.


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