Crimson Gold (Talaye Sorke, 2003) is the ninth film by Iranian director Jafar Panahi. I hadn't heard much prior to viewing it, except for the fact it was banned in Iran (hey, that always gets my attention). In short, it's about the humble life of Hussein, a delivery boy who finds humiliation at every turn. The social class system in his home country had always been a major factor in his life, but discouragement continues to pile high. Hussein is a young man with a strong sense of honesty and integrity, and the unfair treatment he gets due to his "lower class" proves too much to bear. It's no surprise that something eventually pushes him over the edge, but the way everything pans out is the real story.
Among other films, I was somewhat reminded of Taxi Driver and Falling Down, though Crimson Gold slightly favors the former in atmosphere and execution. The pacing is slow and deliberate, and the unbalanced social implications are obvious. I'll admit that there's still something of a culture gap, but the realistic nature of the characters and environment make this film relatively easy to get into. Fans of writer Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry) will also appreciate the detail present in the character's dialogue, mannerisms, and interaction. Both Kiarostami and Panahi have really done a terrific job bringing Crimson Gold together, as it's one of the rare films that seems to drift by and still seem engaging throughout.
Another highlight of this film is the terrific acting by Hossein Emadeddin (Hussein) and Kamyar Sheisi (Ali), especially the former. In Hussein, we see an everyman, plain an simple. Despite his seemingly dull routine, he manages to become a very likeable character that most people could identify with. As he climbs a four-floor staircase during a routine delivery, you can almost feel his exhaustion. After being refused admittance into a jewelry store because of his "unacceptable" appearance, you feel bad for the guy. Even in the film's climactic moments, Hussein's feeble attempts at escape paint the sad picture of an unheard cry for help. Emadeddin's performance is low-key but genuine, as if he's exactly the same person when the cameras are off. In Ali, we see a good-natured and loyal friend who even manages to add a bit of humor without seeming like cheap comic relief. Although there are more characters to the story, Crimson Gold rests heavily on these two (especially Hussein, who appears in roughly 90% of the film).
Although Crimson Gold could be loosely categorized as an "art-house film", I'd encourage any lover of human drama to given this one a chance. It's not loaded with action, it's not high on cheap laughs, but it's a thought-provoking film that any person---regardless of culture---should be able to identify with on some level. It's enjoyed a great amount of critical success since its 2003 release, and even walked away with the Jury Award at Cannes and the Best Film Award at the Chicago Film Festival. That's not to say that everyone who watches Crimson Gold will appreciate it as much as others, but there's much more to the film than what's on the surface. The Region 1 DVD release arrives courtesy of Wellspring, and features a decent technical presentation and an unfortunate lack of extras. In any case, let's see how this one stacks up, shall we?
Another nice surprise was the 5.1 Surround Sound audio mix (presented in Farsi with optional English subtitles), which sounded smooth and clean overall. Dialogue was easily understood, and the surround channels also opened up occasionally for ambience in the bustling city streets. While a few viewers have mentioned issues with the film's subtitles---citing a few translation errors, specifically---I'm not at liberty to confirm or deny this. In any case, there weren't any major concerns with the audio quality, so it still earns above-average marks.
You'd think the cover artwork and menu screens were major spoilers, but the scene above is early on. Anyway, I liked the simple layout of the anamorphically-enhanced menus, and the navigation was simple too. The 97-minute film was divided into 24 chapters, and no layer change was detected during playback. Packaging was also straightforward, with a standard black keepcase...and hey, you've gotta admit that the cover gets attention! And just for the record, no insert was included.
Unfortunately, no bonus features were included on this DVD, save for a Director Filmography and a few Weblinks. It's a shame, too: since the film is banned in its home country, I'd have loved to hear more information from the director firsthand. It's good that this film was released domestically in any fashion, but the lack of extras really takes this release down a notch.
While Crimson Gold isn't the latest mainstream release that you can enjoy with friends on a Friday night, it's a great foreign film that deserves a wider audience. The believable performances and thought-provoking story really made for a great combination, and the film's deliberate pace was never a problem. Wellspring's DVD treatment provides a fine technical presentation, but the lack of bonus features keep Crimson Gold from being a higher recommendation. Still, the strength of the film saves this DVD from being your average rental fodder. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an ordinary art instructor hailing from Harrisburg, PA. To fund his DVD viewing habits, he also works on freelance graphic design and illustration projects. In his free time, Randy enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.