Bit by bit, a brooding but well-liked lug of a man is robbed of his dignity and driven to a desperate act in “Crimson Gold.” Elliptical portrait of a humble pizza-delivery man, whose personal circuit-breaker wears out before aud’s eyes, is full of telling observations about contempo Iranian society. But Tehran-set pic succeeds as a universal account of frustration applicable to any urban center where the gap between haves and have-nots is tauntingly visible. Wellspring picked up U.S. rights for affecting pic, which is likely to screen in this fall’s New York Film Festival and looks to have a decent theatrical life internationally.
Working from a script by helmer Abbas Kiarostami, “Crimson Gold” took top honors in Un Certain Regard at Cannes. Helmer Jafar Panahi’s fourth feature marks a fourth major fest award after “The Circle” in 2000 (Golden Lion in Venice), “The Mirror” in 1997 (Golden Leopard in Locarno) and “The White Balloon” in 1995 (Camera d’Or in Cannes).
Pic opens on a jewelry store robbery in progress early one morning. Lone perpetrator shoots the store owner, then commits suicide. Without any formal transition, narrative next shows trim, upbeat Ali (Kamyar Sheissi) joining his friend and future brother-in-law Hussein (Hussein Emadeddin) at a cheap cafe.
As aud just saw roly-poly Hussein kill himself, it’s evident this is a flashback — as is the entire film until, in pic’s closing moments, it cycles back to the now less-baffling opening robbery.
Ali has found a discarded handbag that contains a receipt for a necklace so costly Ali and Hussein would have to work for years to earn — let alone save — such a sum. Mistaking the pair for professional thieves, a nearby customer delivers a lecture on the importance of self-imposed “ethics” in what he assumes to be their shared trade of picking pockets.
Hussein, who is shown to be pragmatic, polite, honest and generous if taciturn, accumulates slights and snubs from people with more power or money than he has. His evening pizza deliveries take him into upscale neighborhoods, culminating with a strange, skillfully constructed visit to a customer in a penthouse apartment roughly as large and luxurious as the lobby of a four-star hotel.
Viewers who believe Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” offers insufficient insight into what might prompt two kids to shoot their classmates certainly will prefer Kiarostami and Panahi’s detailed and subtle accretion of contributing factors. Pic emphasizes that people — be they Colorado’s well-off, immoral teens or the working poor of Theran — have breaking points. Sufficiently fueled by feelings of alienation, random acts of senseless violence aren’t always as senseless as they appear.
Hefty, mild-mannered Emadeddin makes an indelible protagonist as a man of few words and complex feelings. Finding himself chronically humiliated and suspected of wrongdoing, he concludes he may as well do something to justify societal contempt. Pic is peppered with moments of offbeat humor, which render its social punch all the more convincing.