Crimson Gold

"Extraordinary"

Crimson Gold Review


Opening with a single take of a jewel heist gone wrong, Crimson Gold is the furthest from what we've come to expect from a genre that's become about machismo and futile tough-talk. The shot lingers on a doorway, where a crowd gathers listening to the off-camera shop owner held at gunpoint by Hussein (Hussein Emadeddin). Hussein drifts back and forth in front of the camera: a big, lethargic, sleepy-eyed outsider. It ends with the shop owner drilled dead and Hussein shooting himself in the head. Violence begets violence, and the crowd (and, by extension, the audience) watches on with a mixture of helplessness and curiosity.

From there, Crimson Gold tracks back in time showing Hussein's life beforehand, and the steps that led up to this moment of violence. Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (working from a script by his mentor, Abbas Kiarostami) sets up a ticking time-bomb premise, then shows a series of everyday events charged with social unrest. Hussein is shown as a harmless looking pizza deliveryman, a fat man on a motorcycle whose shell-shocked acquiescence blends into the paranoid working class neighborhoods of Tehran (routinely patrolled by corrupt cops) and the wealthy uptown penthouses he delivers to.

When Hussein's ne'er do well friend Ali (Kamyar Sheissi) steals a woman's purse, containing a broken wedding wing and a receipt for an expensive necklace, this sends them to the jewelry shop out of curiosity. Sent away because of their underclass appearance, they return later in makeshift suits and Hussein's dressed-up fiancé in tow, only to come face to face with multiple levels of class warfare: They're still treated like dirt because they don't know how to behave, they're pressured to purchase Iranian gold rather than imported jewelry, and the shop owner indicates that they'd be better off going to the cheap bazaars.

Crimson Gold poses compelling situations such as this one, then allows the camera to linger on Hussein's blank expression. It goes beyond rich man-poor man class warfare into what defines a man's self-respect. Lest Crimson Gold be confused as an angry man's eruption of violence, Hussein is shown as more multi-layered than we might expect. During one of the breathtaking major setpieces, Hussein is denied access into a luxury apartment building by the police force -- waiting downstairs to arrest or detain party guests, their visitors, and any unlucky souls who happen to come along.

Hussein waits out this totalitarian injustice, which mostly goes unexplained, and when Crimson Gold takes this as far as moral outrage will allow, Hussein displays a saint's goodness or a fool's resigned servitude by passing pizza out to the police, their victims, and the neighbors. I don't think I've seen a more touching display of selflessness in recent cinema, and this coming from a character who (like Albert Camus's The Stranger) epitomizes the human condition as a rubber band waiting to snap.

Iranian oppression is seen as coming more from within than without, and it creates introspective dread rather than finger-pointing anger. Hussein is later seen going home and lying in bed while another arrest takes place outside, and again the camera holds on him for a long time that doesn't feel dull or stately or even artsy. It's more observational and insightful, a glimpse into a human being whose pressure is so locked within he's unable to move. His heavy girth and labored breathing arouse sympathy, and make palatable one of the film's more obvious (yet trenchant) metaphors, that of Hussein keeping a caged bird in his dank apartment. Amazing how Hussein's standing around and waiting -- for the police, for the rich people buying his pizzas, for a night to pass -- acquires meaning through its specificity.

One of the final sequences before rounding its way back to the robbery is Hussein's delivery to a rich customer's house. He's left to his own devices by the oblivious owner (who jabbers on about how everyone in Tehran is mad, referencing his parents that live in America) and walks through a paradise of pretty bathrooms, well-stocked refrigerators, and clear blue swimming pools. The fat man's bored dance along the edge of the swimming pool precipice, followed by his plunge into the waters and his towel-wrapped rooftop view of the city at dawn is a sequence of relentless splendor, a quasi-sickening view of life that Hussein passes through like a ghost. It's as strong an existential statement as the wild protagonist of Mike Leigh's Naked accompanying a night watchman patrolling "empty space" in an office compound, and when it returns to the opening scene of violence at the climax (immediately following a daytime shot of the city), Crimson Gold clinches its place as not just a Middle Eastern nightmare, but a dark elegiac tale of the human condition.

Aka Talaye sorkh.



Crimson Gold

Facts and Figures

Run time: 95 mins

In Theaters: Friday 12th September 2003

Distributed by: Wellspring Media

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 63 Rotten: 10

IMDB: 7.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: Hossain Emadeddin as Hussein, Kamyar Sheisi as Ali

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