Talaye sorkh / Crimson Gold (2003)

The Man in the Tea House: "If you want to arrest a thief, you'll have to arrest the world."
By Jafar Panahi
With Hossain Emadeddin, Kamyar Sheisi and Azita Rayeji

Crimson Gold is the last movie by Jafar Panahi that I decided to see before I feel ready to watch the documentary based on his life called This is not a film (2011).

The movie starts in a jewelry store where a man with a helmet is pointing a gun at an older man asking him where the jewels are. After somewhat of a fight, the older man manages to shut the grid on the burglar who shoots him in retaliation while bystanders look from the outside. We are then introduced to Hussein, a tall man of few words, and his colleague, Ali. Ali has just robbed a purse and discovers that there is a receipt for a jewel in the purse. Ali and Hussein work together as pizza delivery persons. The movie will follow the events that lead up to the burglary, encounters that Hussein make, his plans of marriage with Ali's sister and the constant affirmation of his social status.

Crimson Gold is a very dark movie, both in substance as in colors. Most of the scenes happen at night when Hussein rides his scooter through town and only a few scenes take place during the day. If I had to describe what the film is in the fewest words possible I would have to say that it is a social critique. We see Hussein poor and we are constantly reminded of it. We see his colleagues who aim for material desires while living on their low payrolls. We also encounter rich customers that Hussein meets but they are depressed or repressed by the police. There is a saying that one can't buy happiness and this might be the lesson we, and everyone in the film, learns through this journey.

Hussein is a very complex character with often very erratic behaviors and never many words of explanations. I wouldn't have guessed and I don't know if it is meant to be understood that the character is a paranoid schizophrenic, but the trivia on IMDb state the actor actually is. He seems indifferent to pretty much every situation except in few occasions when he might get really upset because a man reminds him of his social status of "poor", but he can also prove to have a heart of gold when, stuck and stranded in a street because of a police operation, he offers pizzas to everyone present. These scenes shone the most, as unfortunately, I think a lot of the other scenes were unfulfilling simply because of his lack of attention to his surroundings or to his interlocutors. He offers no judgement, denotes no pleasure or displeasure in anything.

As common with Jafar Panahi's movies, the surroundings are very bare and there is hardly any music. Most of the scenes are genuinely filmed in the streets and most of the beauty or ugliness relies on the mere city, a landscape or a simple interaction.

I found the overall message of the movie to be somewhat misleading like the horizons of Hussein suddenly turned black because he saw rich people are not necessarily more happy than he is. I liked dark movies and there is never a single reason to commit a crime, but given the tools the movie offered us, we are left wondering what is going on in Hussein's head and why does he do such things.

I liked: A clash of sorts. Characters struggles.

I disliked: Uncanny. One way. Everyone in their own bubble.

A slow unfolding of what we know will happen. A very dark and mysterious tale.


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