Crimson Gold

The capitalist strivings of an Iranian pizza delivery man.

 

 

Though its title is a more ostentatious substitute for "blood money," there's little else that's fanciful about Iranian director Jafar Panahi's latest film, Crimson Gold.

 

Like Panahi's previous film, The Circle, Crimson Gold opens on a black screen. Voices are shouting. There's no context, but in this case, unlike The Circle, the audience doesn't have to wait long for one.

 

A man pulls back from the camera to reveal an armed robbery in progress. Its failure unfolds over several minutes before Panahi's unmoving lens. The heist ends ineptly with the robber locked inside the jewelry store, where he strides on and off screen, cursing his luck, the camera slowly pulling in to the now-barred door in brief quotation of the stunning closing shot of Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger. The scene ends with the robber's suicide.

 

Panahi, however, is not Antonioni, and he's far more concerned with how society shapes individuals than with measuring the limits of the existential self. To wit: Panahi, like fellow director and countryman Abbas Kiarostami, who wrote the screenplay for Crimson Gold, is not pleased with the effect American-style capitalism has had on his country.

 

Crimson Gold loops back in time to tell the robber Hussein's story. Hussein is a pizza-delivery man. Embarrassed by his social status, he and his future brother-in-law Ali have resorted to purse snatching. But even at that they're amateurs, as a fellow thief who overhears their conversation informs them.

 

Much like The Circle and Kiarostami's film Taste of Cherry, Crimson Gold feels episodic rather than strictly linear as the viewer follows Hussein on a series of odd pizza deliveries. As played by Hossain Emadeddin, a real life pizza-delivery man, Hussein is forlorn and cherubic, depressed by his certainty of future poverty.

 

Emadeddin's performance is reminiscent of Tim Robbins' role in Mystic River, minus Robbins' smugness. Like the 6' 5" Robbins, Emadeddin frequently closes in on himself, becoming a small and humiliated man trapped within a very large body. In one memorable scene, after unsuccessfully posing as a rich man in a suit to scout the location for the jewel heist, Emadeddin slumps bashfully against the storefront. Eyes closed, he puts on his customary stocking cap and jacket, like a naked turtle crawling back into its shell.

 

The appeal of Panahi's film is that he never allows its political message to overshadow such human moments. As Panahi said in an interview last year, "Art is much higher than politics... You never say what's wrong or right. We just show the problems."

 

--Joshua Avram

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