With all the prolific titles under their belt, Jafar Panahi and Abbas Kiarostami are only a few films short of becoming
nothing less than the dynamic duo of Iranian cinema. Kiarostami, the philosopher of the two, has gone on to be internationally
lauded as a filmmaker worthy of the all-time greats (even though there are an equal number of people who can't stand his work).
In contrast, Panahi, the more politically minded filmmaker, has gotten by more quietly. His films may show up at small international
film festivals and garner praise when they're seen, but he is often seen as inferior to his collaborator. But "Crimson Gold"
is yet another Iranian film banned in its home country, proof that someone is obviously paying attention.
Hussein (Hossain Emadeddin) is a pizza delivery man who is poised to be married to the sister of a friend (Ali, played
by Kamyar Sheisi). As a friend, Ali is a complete mismatch for Hussein, babbling on while Hussein will shoot him down with
a word (the two have been compared to Laurel and Hardy or any number of famous American comedy duos). However, the two do
share the same job and essentially the same economic positions. Hussein is always being made painfully aware of the social
discrepancies all around him, and begins to build up a real, palatable rage.
The most intriguing thing about "Crimson Gold" is how it does not structure a story intended to guilt the viewer into sympathy,
nor does it reach a thesis in the final moments that would become more like the moral at the end of the story. Instead, it
is an amalgamation of everyday humiliations and injustices, each building on the next. What unfolds by the end of the film
is surprisingly cerebral; as an audience we not only realize, but are slowly suffocated by the oppression that seeps out of
every corner of Hussein's life.
As such, Panahi doesn't offer any traditional performances in his film. He is interested more in personalities than conflicts;
Hussein's dilemma becomes evident because at a certain point it simply becomes too much for us. In essence, our reactions
to the events onscreen essentially materialize Hussein's entire character, and that is a huge leap of faith on Panahi's
part. In this way, Hossain Emadeddin is essential to the film. He is such a huge presence throughout that it becomes impossible
to detach him from us as a part of a story; we see everything as not just from his perspective, but as him.
The banning of this film in Iran tells us one of two things: either the Iranian censors are complete idiots who will shield
the public from anything that contains any substance (which is entirely possible), or that they are fully aware of the kind
of reaction Panahi is capable of achieving. It's part of the sad state of Iranian cultural politics that the country's best
films, its most needed films, cannot be seen by those for whom they are of most use. However, with "Crimson Gold", Jafar Panahi,
who is so closely involved with Iranian issues, emerges with something with a distinctively universal feel. But this feel
doesn't arise from familiarity. It comes from an uncanny ability to transfer us into the life of one character.