(Dir. Jafar Panahi, 2003)
Crimson Gold is an Iranian film from 2003, directed by the now-infamous Jafar Panahi, and penned by master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. Panahi has been under house arrest and under a twenty-year ban on filmmaking since 2010 (although he’s made three films illegally since his arrest, and each has been smuggled out of the country and released overseas), and Kiarostami has been living in exile from his own country, doing his incredible work abroad. In short, Crimson Gold is the work of rebels.
Not that it’s uncommon to be a rebel in a country as restrictive as Iran. The guidelines that filmmakers are required to follow leave about as much breathing room as a hungry boa constrictor, and the consequences of ignoring either the letter of the law or the spirit of the law seem to be equally harsh. Crimson Gold is the second of three films by Panahi that were banned in Iran before their release, and have only seen the light of day outside of his home country.
The quote on the cover of my DVD says that the film is “A gripping suspense thriller….” Please, do not listen to that description, it is misleading. This is not some David Fincher thriller with mind-blowing twists and shocking reveals. The beginning of the movie reveals what the ending will be, and then tells a straightforward story of what happened in the days leading up to it. One could even look at the film as a series of simple vignettes, connected by the same main character who slowly grows more and more frustrated with his life and the society in which he lives.
Crimson Gold follows a few days in the life of a simpleminded but friendly pizza-delivery man named Hussein as he struggles through the pressures of the world, and through his own mental illness. Hussein’s over-talkative friend and future brother-in-law is a petty thief who wants to team up with him to knock over a jewelry store. The owner of the store is an elitist member of the upper class who refuses to even let them in the building when they come to spy on the place. The cops hassle Hussein at his job. One of his coworkers is killed by a reckless driver, and is promptly shrugged off and forgotten by everyone who knew him. Eventually, Hussein agrees to help his friend rob the jewelry store, in order to exact revenge on the elitist shop owner.
It’s a very simple story, told with minimalist elegance, but behind the story lie many of the ideas that ended up getting Panahi into trouble with his government: A man trying to struggle through a society with an impossible amount of restrictions and obstacles in his way. A government that cares little for its citizens, if at all; shown in the offhand way in which the police stop Hussein from making a simple delivery, though they are happy to eat his pizzas after he selflessly offers them up. A country so difficult to live in that it can take a good man and turn him into a criminal just like that. And the film portrays the horrible class divide that’s still so harsh in that portion of the world, with lowly men like Hussein viewed by the wealthy as mere pests to brush off absently.
I wonder what U.S. cinema would look like if we were still bound by the restrictions of the fifties. Our screens have become so clogged with blood and sex over the years, what would we do if we had to make interesting films without all those trappings? As harsh as the restrictions are in Iran, I do think they’ve helped the film world there become incredibly creative and innovative, and filmmakers from all over the world should take note.
This film, like so many, is not available to be watched in its own country; only overseas. I hope one day Panahi’s vision will be allowed to be experienced by all, and that he’ll no longer have to smuggle his films out of Iran in birthday cakes (yes, that actually happened). I hope one day Abbas Kiarostami is allowed to return to Iran freely and continue making such masterpieces as he’s made there before. Until that day comes, the least we can all do for Panahi, and his fellow persecuted filmmakers, is take 95 minutes out of our busy schedules to watch a truly revolutionary film about a pizza-delivery man who’s had all he can take.
Watch the trailer: