Crimson Gold

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Crimson Gold

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Cruising the streets of Tehran on his motorbike, with an implosive rage burning on a slow fuse, Hossain Emadeddin's character in Crimson Gold sees the city with much the same myopia as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. And just as Bickle takes viewers on a memorably disquieting tour through his New York, a place where "all the animals come out at night," Emadeddin's job as a pizza deliveryman enforces a narrow perspective of his Tehran, which divides sharply along class lines. Crimson Gold provides one of the rare glimpses of the upper class to come out of recent Iranian cinema–the last one in memory was 1996's exquisite, Ibsen-esque melodrama Leila–and director Jafar Panahi (The Circle) captures it vividly through his hero's wounded obsession. Set in the days leading up to a jewelry-store robbery gone horribly awry, the film follows Emadeddin as he travels back and forth over an enormous fault line, quietly enraged by the inequities that make him feel like a second-class citizen. Unlike Bickle, he isn't pathological or otherwise disturbed, but he's a proud man who resents the subtle and not-so-subtle ways his humble social status leads others to undermine his dignity. His jaundiced perspective lends credence to Panahi's searing class critique, but it's his essential decency that complicates his violent actions and gives Crimson Gold the weight of tragedy. Working again with the great Abbas Kiarostami (A Taste Of Cherry), who also wrote his 1995 debut feature The White Balloon, Panahi opens with the robbery and flashes back to the incidents preceding it, a narrative strategy that instills the film with fatalistic dread. A quiet, lumbering presence, Emadeddin generally defers to his talkative best friend Kamyar Sheisi, a fellow deliveryman brimming with excitement over Emadeddin's impending marriage to Sheisi's sister. When Sheisi finds a receipt for a necklace in a stranger's purse, Emadeddin reels at the expense, then fumes when the jewelry store that sold the necklace refuses them entry based on their shabby appearance. After that, several incidents make Emadeddin acutely aware of his miserable standing, as he delivers pizzas to the city's wealthiest neighborhoods and returns home to a dank, one-room cinderblock with a clothesline hanging at its center. Humiliation and indifference visit him in increasingly long and agonizing setpieces, from a former army boss who shoos him away with a tip to a stunning dark-night-of-the-soul encounter with a half-cracked playboy (Pourang Nakhael) who sends him over the edge. Looking not unlike the devilish Martin Scorsese in Taxi Driver, Nakhael rants over and over again about Tehran as "a city of lunatics." Crimson Gold's chief triumph may be in shaping Emadeddin so that he can't be considered one of them.

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