“Crimson Gold” is the latest import from that world cinema hotspot, Iran. Scripted by Abbas Kiarostami, the movie is Jafar Panahi’s follow-up to his widely praised “The Circle” (2000) and finds him continuing to explore the theme of the individual pushing feebly against inexorable social forces. But, while “The Circle’s” power erupted from its live-wire, all-female ensemble, the cold austerity of “Crimson Gold’s” style and dramaturgy all but strangles any emotional resonance the movie might have had.
Panahi frames his movie in a jewelry store where a robbery has gone tragically wrong; in a fit of rage, Hussein (Hussein Emadeddin), a glowering bear of a man, shoots the storeowner then, as pedestrians watch in horror, turns the gun on himself. Panahi then rewinds his narrative to make the case for how a combination of demoralizing circumstances turned this low-key, working-class schlub into a violent criminal. Amid the teeming streets of Tehran, Hussein ekes out a living on his moped, delivering pizzas. We see how he endures the snobbery of a wealthy jeweler, the material indulgences of a garrulous, patronizing playboy and, on one night as he delivers pizzas, the bullying of a policeman who blocks his progress as he ambushes guests leaving a party, arresting them on charges of dancing in mixed company. Hussein’s fiancé, meanwhile, is boggled by his morose detachment and her brother, Ali, can’t seem to snap him out of his stupor.
Hussein’s urban breakdown has echoes of Travis Bickle’s but with none of the latter’s engaging, expressive fury. We sense that Bickle is essentially a moral character driven to vigilantism in the name of his own, admittedly warped, sense of pride and morality. “But what does Hussein want?” we ask ourselves. “What does he yearn for beneath all this repression?” Indeed, under the relentless drone of his moped, we sense no impetus in Hussein: no yearning, no calling. So we do not especially care what happens to him.
Even Fassbinder’s Hussein-like Hans Epp in “Merchant of Four Seasons,” a movie that hews closer in tone to Panahi’s than does “Taxi Driver,” wants something—a measure of peace and acceptance after a lifetime of grief. Indeed, several scenes in “Gold” have the unsettlingly raw feel of Fassbinder’s cinema, right down to its halting, unactorly technique. Emadeddin is a non-actor (he is, by trade, a pizza deliveryman), but, more than that, he is a paranoid schizophrenic. Panahi knew this when he cast him, and it might have been far more poignant to acknowledge Emadeddin’s mental illness within his narrative rather than to work around it, to absorb it within his story-fabric, thereby adding to, rather than stripping down, the emotional texture his characters so badly need.
The impression that Panahi did his damndest to make “Crimson Gold” as elusive and distancing as possible runs like a stake throughout this movie. Panahi may have turned his camera on a fascinating society-in-transition, but it reveals so frustratingly little and remains so stubbornly alienating as to render the whole thing an artful failure, a moped-fueled odyssey into dramatic weariness and monotony.
Directed by: Jafar Panahi
Written by: Abbas Kiarostami
Cast: Hossain Emadeddin, Kamyar Sheisi, Azita Rayeji