Crimson Gold

Crimson Gold has the usual elements of contemporary Iranian cinema: nonprofessional actors, deliberate pacing, little dialogue, and a small scope. What differs is that, rather than focusing on children or women, Crimson Gold is more or less a crime story.

During the 4-minute-long opening shot, we watch as an obese man breaks into a jewelry store, kills the jeweler, then blows his own brains out. The rest of the film tracks the days leading up to this murder/suicide, where we get to know - sort of - the robber (Hussein Emadeddin), a poor, ugly pizza delivery man who, because of his looks and his economic status, is forever kept on the margins of society, ignored by those with wealth and power. His resentment over being one of Tehran's have-nots grows over the course of several humiliating experiences - particularly with the pompous jeweler whom he will eventually shoot to death - yet his disillusionment with life in general begins to sink in once he gets an unexpected taste of wealth and finds it to be just as unrewarding as being poor.

The nearly speechless Emadeddin is fascinating to watch, his cold eyes doing much of the talking as he becomes fed up with the (sometimes ridiculously) unjust world around him. Slow-moving enough to turn away all but rabid fans of Iranian cinema, but so troubling that it stuck with me for days, Crimson Gold depicts a Tehran that is unsettlingly similar to most big American cities. Rather than the Mad Mullahs we see only on TV news, the Iran shown in the film is filled with self-absorbed yuppies, petty crooks, choking traffic, and, yes, pizza delivery services.

Written by Iran's most famous director Abbas Kiarostami, and directed with typical objectivity by Jafar Panahi (who made the much better The White Balloon), Crimson Gold is a Taxi Driver-like meditation on a lonely man whose descent into violence seems so inevitable that it makes perfect sense for the film to open with his lone, and final, act of rage.