Monday Movie: Crimson Gold, by David Bax
Jafar Panahi’s Taxi recently popped up to rent on Amazon, giving me the chance to catch up on a film I had regrettably missed in theaters last year. I won’t be reviewing Taxi in this space (it’s great; all Panahi does is make great movies) but I will point out that it stands not only as a critique of modern Iran’s relationship to its own culture but also as a survey of Panahi’s relationship to his own past work. Only a couple of his films are actually mentioned by name in Taxi and one of them is 2003’s Crimson Gold. Taxi’s recurring discussion about what makes a film “undistributable” in Iran is certainly germane here, given Crimson Gold’s release history (banned in Iran). More than that, though, the new film is a reminder that the question of what turns a normal person into a thief has continued to preoccupy Panahi’s mind.
Crimson Gold opens with an armed man attempting to rob a jewelry store in Tehran before turning the gun on himself. From there, the film jumps back two days to show us who this man is and to attempt to explain why his story will end the way it does. Panahi tends to work with nonprofessional actors and his unaffected visual style complements the simplicity of those performances. In this case, there’s even more cause for the protagonist’s flatness. Hussein (Hossain Emadeddin) is a war veteran and Panahi suggests heavily that his experiences have left him troubled (in real life, the actor is a paranoid schizophrenic).
As Hussein travels the city in his work as a pizza delivery man, he has cause to interact with the rich and poor alike, as well as the police and other authorities who treat the two groups with notable differences. Panahi is not just exploring the psychic terrain of a broken soldier, he’s also charting the chasm between Tehran’s classes. Above all, though, Panahi is too much of a humanist to point us toward any concrete reasons this good but disturbed man becomes so destructive. In Taxi, he’s still pondering these questions a dozen years later. I am too.