Crimson Gold - Directed by Jafar Panahi
Script by Kiarostami
The film opens with a revelation which encapsulates both the film’s structure structure and content: the opening credits - white on black - fade and the black shifts to one side to reveal we have been looking at the back of a shopkeeper who is being robbed. The camera remains at one fixed point throughout the long robbery sequence until at the end it tilts up as the robber Hussain calmly shoots himself. As it is at the end so it is at the beginning: both the film and Hussein travel the full circle,
The film is a continuous internal dialogue with Tehran as experienced through the cracked screen of Hussein’s motorbike. Crimson Gold depicts Tehran as a city that looks like ‘nowhere’ inhabited by people who don’t exist. Jafar Panahi and Kiarostami have a vision of Tehran as schizoid society unable to move, trapped in contradictions between repression and desire. And a society stalled by this conundrum is doomed to go round in circles going nowhere always on the same plane alwaays returning to where it began. In tune with this gyrating monotonous endless rhythm Hussein bikes round the highways of Tehran at night delivering pizza to the rich. The pizza itself, of course being round American style food delivered in plane square boxes. The Pizza is food that in itself contains opposing messages: the desired and the forbidden; to the poor it is just a meal; to the wealthy a social statement.
From a circle there can be no escape unless first you realise that you are in a circle. The performance of Hussein lies at the heart of Crimson Gold. It is performance of few words that grows in stature and nobility as inarticulately he moves foreward to irrevocably smash the circle - and at the same time within the temporal format of the film confirming its existence.
Hussein circles Tehran in his nightly work delivering food to the rich, and prowls round the wedding ring in the shop that he will never be able to afford. The night scenes are shot like affirmations of the idea of eternal recurrence. The eternity trap in which you will deliver Pizza for ever or until you die knocked off your motorbike. The Tehran streets unending necklaces of street lights; the dark citadels of the rich where the pizza is delivered. Hussein like the warrior he is, knows this terain as a familiar battlefield. Streets fast and dangerous and the experiences in the closed apartments batter against his seemingly imperturbable being. Each of the night deliveries made by Hussein opens up a crack in Iranian society casting momentary light on the dark disturbed regions of this culture experienced and filmed like an underworld. A dream like underworld.
And then there is day when the netherworld slips away and the dream ends. And Hussein still on the bike still looking through the crack in the screen is locked into his own contradiction. He has been set up to marry - an honourable marriage to his best friends sister whom he respects. But for Hussein there is something not right. He should not marry it will continue to drivew his life out of his control, perhaps he has seen too much. We don’t know and it doesn’t matter there is no reason for us to specifically understand. It is not our business nor is it the film’s business. The film’s business is that the unwanted business of the marriage is instinctively employed by Hussein to break the circle. The ring breaks the circle.
The wedding ring foreshadowed from the start of the film is not wanted: the bride to be does not want it, Hussein does not want it for itself. The ring is that gap between desired and forbidden and the unattainable. The ring is unattainable because of its grossly expensive price, forbidden also because it is part of a world in which the Husseins of this world simply do not exist.
The logic that Hussein comes to is to break the schizoid vicuous circle by having the ring. He undertakes an armed robbery to have the ring he desires, not for itself, but for its intrinsic value as something that he is not allowed to have. The robbery is amateur in conception and execution. For Hussein it is clear that it doesn’t matter whether this robbery is sucessful or unsucessful. What matters is to say no; what matters is that to take control. He is redeemed by his action. The robbery ends in fiasco: Hussein shoots himself. The film comes the full circle but the existential knot is cut.
The film is sometimes like a fusion between the style of Alphaville and the content Taxi Driver, but without the Taxi Driver’s self indulgence and fake Hollywood bravura - simply staying true to the situation of the individual in the dark recesses of city society.