Film-Forward Review: [CRIMSON GOLD]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Ali (Sheissi, left), & Hussein (Emadeddin, right) on the road. Photo: Wellspring

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Directed & Produced by: Jafar Panahi.
Written by: Abbas Kiarostami.
Director of Photography: Hossain Jafarian.
Edited by: Jafar Panahi.
Music by: Peyman Yazdanian.
Released by: Wellspring.
Country of Origin: Iran. 97 min. Not Rated.
With: Hussein Emadeddin, Kamyar Sheissi & Azita Rayeji.

A heist at a jewelry store goes terribly wrong, and from the sidewalk outside, passers-by share our experience of watching in horror as events unfold. So begins the latest film from Iranian director Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon, The Circle). After this remarkable beginning, the film flashes back in time becoming a meditation on the circumstances that led a good-hearted person to this act of desperation.

At the center of the film is a pizza deliveryman named Hussein Emadeddin, played (in true Panahi fashion) by a pizza deliveryman named Hussein Emadeddin. As in his previous films, Panahi reveals himself to be a masterful urban director. Hossain Jafarian’s camera follows Hussein on his motorbike through the streets of Tehran, revealing the discrepancy between the lives of the haves and the have-nots. The screenplay, by the legendary Iranian writer and director Abbas Kiarostami, contains moments of bittersweet humor, such as when Hussein finds himself caught in a police stake-out at an upper-class party. He responds by passing out free pizza to everyone involved.

But the film’s real revelation is Hussein Emadeddin. Defying expectations about “non-professional” actors, he gives a superbly controlled and quietly moving performance, conveying with heartbreaking sincerity the reactions of a sensitive man to one humiliation after another. He and his brother-in-law-to-be (Sheissi) are taken for pick-pockets; a jeweler (Vaziri) refuses to even let him into his store, and then informs Hussein that if he wants to buy jewelry for his fiancée (Rayeji, who appears all too briefly in a beautiful performance) he should try the gold souks in the “lower” part of town. Hussein’s round face, with his woolen cap pulled over his sleepy eyes, registers each blow quietly, until the final scene returns us to the moment when resignation turns to violence.

Crimson Gold is not without its flaws: several of the supporting characters are two-dimensional, and Panahi can be heavy-handed in his political swipes against Iranian society, as he was in the much more polemical The Circle. But there is no doubting Panahi’s artistry, and the viewer will come away remembering the unexpected pleasures of certain scenes: a gorgeous shot of the Tehran skyline interrupted by a drunken burp, or a seemingly endless ride in an elevator that provides a brief glimpse into Hussein’s weary and ravaged heart. Anthony Alessandrini, Near Eastern Studies, New York University
January 16, 2004



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