Crimson Gold (May 27/04)
Viewers without a great deal of patience will likely find little to admire about Crimson Gold, a slow-moving but ultimately intriguing character study.
The film centers around Hussein (Hussein Emadeddin), a slow-moving and taciturn man who leads a life of dull monotony. In the film's opening four minutes, we see Hussein try to rob a jewelry store - an attempt that goes horribly wrong and ends with his suicide. The rest of the movie follows Hussein in the days leading up to the heist, and we learn just what drove him to such a drastic action.
Director Jafar Panahi, along with screenwriter Abbas Kiarostami, has fashioned an effectively convincing portrait of an alienated and aimless man - though Emadeddin's almost robotic demeanor makes it virtually impossible to sympathize with his character. It probably doesn't help that Panahi never allows us a glimpse into Hussein's mind, choosing instead to follow the man through the mundane tasks of his day-to-day life.
The film's structure mirrors Hussein's lumbering nature, with sequences often playing out in real time. Depending on your appreciation for the central character, such moments will either seem fascinating or interminable. And because Hussein isn't one for talking, these elongated scenes never quite further our understanding of the character - though it becomes easier and easier to understand the frustration and desperation he undoubtedly feels in interacting with virtually everyone around him.
Aside from the electrifying opening four minutes - featuring Hussein's botched robbery attempt, which plays out in a single shot - the best thing Crimson Gold has going for it is Emadeddin's performance. While he's not exactly the most charismatic actor around, Emadeddin's unique look and low-key style of performing (which is a serious understatement, by the way) is just unusual enough to keep us intrigued. He's got this weird kind of presence that's strangely hypnotic; as a character on Seinfeld remarked after viewing a painting of Kramer, "he's a loathsome, offensive brute...yet I can't look away."
To those weaned on Hollywood blockbusters, Crimson Gold will surely come as a shock to the system. But there's no denying that Panahi's spare style effectively complements Kiarostami's less-is-more manner of writing.