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Film Review: Crimson Gold (Talaye Sorkh)
by Birgit Schrumpf

To draw attention to the fact that International Jury member Iranian film director Jafar Panahi was not able to attend the Berlinale, the festival showed a number of films by this renowned Iranian director. I attended the screening of Crimson Gold (2003) which was introduced and presented by his Iranian filmmaker colleague Rafi Pitts who said that it is perhaps Panahi’s most personal film.

Heavy-set and slow-moving Hussein (Hussein Emadeddin) is an Iran-Iraq war veteran with a puffy, pox-marked face and slow speech. In contrast, there is his young and naive friend Ali (Kamyar Sheissi) who wants to know all about the olden days when “women went around naked” (meaning without a scarf). Both work as pizza delivery men and can hardly make ends meet.

One day Ali finds a lady’s handbag with little useable contents but the receipt for an expensive necklace. It is unimaginable that somebody could spend such a staggering amount on a piece of jewellery, more money than either of them will ever see in their lives. They are curious and drive to the exclusive store. Hussein is engaged to Ali’s sister and wants to get her a ring. The arrogant shop owner (Shahram Vaziri) does not even open the protective iron gate to let them in but sends the pair off to the bazaar. A few days later they try again, all dressed up and with the fiancé (Azita Reyeji) in tow. This time the three gain entry explaining their wish for bridal jewellery. The owner’s condescending attitude scarcely conceals his class contempt when he explains that he only stores the expensive Italian and Iranian gold. Once more they are sent off to the lower end of the city. The big, sullen Hussein is visibly hurt and one senses a great deal of anger and frustration. He quietly mounts his motor scooter driving off with the incessantly chatting Ali in the back, meandering through the traffic-blocked streets of Teheran. There is a sense of foreboding when watching Hussein’s stony face in a long close-up, shot by cinematographer Hossein Djafarian.
Jafar Panahi truly captures the absurdity of contemporary Iran when Hussein tries to deliver his pizza to an apartment house late at night. He is stopped by police at the cordoned-off building. They are waiting for young people to come from a party assuming that they were drinking and dancing, therefore breaking the law as this is illegal in Iran. Hussein pleads that he only wants to deliver the pizza to one of the flats and go home. But he is denied entry by the arrogant police officer in charge. There is nothing he can do but sit and wait, observing the young women and men being caught. As he cannot deliver the boxes of pizza, he offers them to the hungry police men.

Hussein becomes increasingly aware of the stark contrast between rich and poor whilst driving his delivery rounds. Unexpectedly, one day he, too, tastes the luxurious life. A wealthy young man (Pourang Nakhael) asks to keep him company, sharing his pizza and listening to his depressive love-sick story. Dreamlike Hussein walks through his house and cannot believe that this young guy lives alone in such a big place and even has an indoor swimming pool. How can a simple but sensitive man like Hussein come to terms with all these contradictions?

Crimson Gold is based on Abbas Kiarostami’s screenplay. This thought-provoking story of life in modern Teheran was the winner of the “Un Certain Regard Jury Prize” at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.