Returning to virtual cinemas newly remastered, Jafar Panahi’s Crimson Gold (Tala-ye Sorkh) barely seems to have aged since it’s 2003 premiere in Cannes, where it won the jury prize in the Un Certain Regard section. The portrait it paints of urban decay in Tehran could be interchangeable with a number of other films, not least of which includes Panahi’s own film The Circle (Dayereh), yet that vision is distinguished by the troubled figure at its center.
Hossain Emadeddin is that person, playing a fictionalized version of himself as a pizza delivery driver introduced to us in a robbery which ends in tragic carnage. As Panahi’s script (his second collaboration with Abbas Kiarostami) backtracks to the three days preceding the crime, what we witness isn’t just a series of sequential encounters that neatly explain Hossein’s actions. Rather, the disparate socioeconomic conditions of the city are observed with the same dispassionate gaze shrouding Hossain’s face.
Emadeddin was, in fact, a paranoid schizophrenic whose turbulent behavior onset was a challenge for Panahi and the crew to work with. One couldn’t tell watching the film, and Panahi thankfully avoids exploiting his subject by placing the audience alongside him while he zooms through the bustle of Tehran traffic on his motorbike with rote precision. Despite this distance, Crimson Gold contains a subtle undercurrent of rage directed at the privileged characters the film refuses to wholly demonize. Panahi’s film, like his progressively more political films following his incarceration, are built upon a gradually concretized foundation of dignity which all human beings deserve. The tragic fallout stemming from stringent dichotomies drawn along lines of economic stature have only made Crimson Gold more chilling and urgently relevant.