This is really a city of lunatics," one of the minor characters in Jafar Panahi's Crimson Gold repeats over and over, referring to a Tehran where nothing is as it once was, where morality is more concerned with appearances than realities and a sense of proportion seems nowhere to be found.
Crimson Gold, banned in its country of origin, Iran, is about a society that has lost its bearings, as witnessed in the character of Hussein, a pizza-delivery man destined never to sample the good life, except by osmosis through the well-to-do customers to whom he caters. His despair eventually turns murderous. (The film opens with the act, then shows through flashback how Hussein arrived at a point that Panahi and screenwriter Abbas Kiarostami, another of Iran's leading directors, see as inevitable).
Such fatalism seems defeatist at best, especially given the lack of backstory. Yes, Hussein seems doomed to a life without joy, but his reaction throughout the film suggests resignation more than rage; little is told of how he became who he is, and the rage that eventually boils up seems to spring from a well of emotions barely suggested.
There's a subtlety to Crimson Gold that deserves applause; Hussein's final despair is prompted not by any grand event, but by his friend Ali's discovery of a receipt for a necklace so expensive that neither man will ever be able to afford it. Such touches make the film poignant, even if they don't increase one's empathy for its characters. In the end, you don't feel so much moved by Hussein's fate as nonplussed by it.
Starring Hussein Emadeddin, Kamyar Sheissi
Director Jafar Panahi
Released by Wellspring Media
Not rated (Language, suggested violence)
Time 93 minutes (In Farsi; English subtitles)