Crimson Gold (2003; Jafar Panahi)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opening Friday, June 25, in virtual cinemas nationwide.
Crimson Gold opens with a single-shot jewel heist gone wrong, then circles back to the origin story of the misguided thieves. It may bear the trappings of a Tarantino knockoff, but Crimson Gold possesses an incisive naturalism that is pure Panahi. The Iranian government banned the film, and Panahi was later placed under house arrest and banned from making movies altogether. Of course, Crimson Gold is now available for rental in virtual cinemas, and Panahi’s house arrest kickstarted arguably the most fecund period of his career. Great job banning stuff, guys!
“Honesty is the basis for all professions.”
After the shocking opening scene, Crimson Gold fills in the blanks of Hussein (Hossain Emadeddin) and Ali (Kamyar Sheisi), delivery drivers and petty thieves in Tehran. A purloined designer handbag and a jewelry store receipt inspire new interest in unattainable wealth and class imbalance, which Hussein sees in glimpses during his delivery runs.
Hussein and Ali form a classic big-quiet-guy and little-talkative-guy combo, but Panahi constantly veers away from easy categorizations and clichéd expectations. In one memorable sequence, Panahi seems to head-fake towards an impending delivery bike robbery as an obvious step in Hussein’s inevitable downfall. Instead, Hussein has an unexpected encounter with a former military superior that reveals surprising layers to his character.
Among other revelations, Crimson Gold shows the strong influence of Italy on Iranian culture, from a preference for Italian jewelry to the pizzas that Hussein delivers. Most of all, it shows up in Panahi’s penchant for Neorealism, including the use of non-actors, natural sound and long takes. It was a troubled production, exacerbated by the casting of real-life schizophrenic Emadeddin as Hussein. However, Emadeddin’s unforgettable performance as a man who doesn’t fit in his world will outlive us all.