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Roushan Karam Elmi
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Mohamad Ali Keshavarz,
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For Hussein, a pizza delivery driver, the imbalance of the social system is thrown in his face wherever he turns. One day when his friend, Ali, shows him the contents of a lost purse, Hussein discovers a receipt of payment and cannot believe the large sum of money someone spent to purchase an expensive necklace. He knows that his pitiful salary will never be enough to afford such luxury. Hussein receives yet another blow when he and Ali are denied entry to an uptown jewelry store because of their appearance. His job allows him a full view of the contrast between rich and poor. He motorbikes every evening to neighborhoods he will never live in, for a closer look at what goes on behind closed doors. But one night, Hussein tastes the luxurious life, before his deep feelings of humiliation push him over the edge. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
In September of 1980, as pretty much the first military operation of the Iran-Iraq war by ground forces, Iraqi forces captured the border post at Shalamcheh. Shalamcheh was later to be the site of the largest battle of the war, Operation Karbala-5. A passing reference to Crimson Gold's main character, Hussein, having been at Shalamcheh is made in the film. So what's quite easy to miss here, for a casual Western viewer, is that protagonist Hussein Emadeddin, sometime pizza deliveryman, is a war veteran. An Iranian viewer would be expecting this anyway; it was a huge war that engulfed the generation that Hussein belongs to. Not that many Iranians will see this movie, all Panahi's films are banned in his homeland. Shalamcheh is a resonant name to Iranians, and now contains a war memorial which many travel to. Part of the battle involved "human waves" which is to say lightly armed men, in large quantities charging the well-fortified Iraqi positions, basically suicide attacks. There are stories during the war of young men, apparently volunteers, charging the minefields, in order to clear them for the more experienced soldiers.
The Iran Iraq war was a particularly unpleasant throwback: commentators have compared it to World War One due to the predomination of trench warfare. In both wars for example there was the use of mustard gas, machine gun nests, shelling, and barbed wire. I think it's pretty much implied that Hussein has been a victim of the war. He's been taking cortisone on a long term basis. Due to the copious side effects, you don't do that unless there's something severely amiss, he would have to have a severe long term illness. Prolonged use of cortisone can be prescribed to treat severe lung disorders, I would suggest that Hussein may well have been gassed (hundreds of thousands of Iranian soldiers were gassed by sulphur mustard during the war, plus mustard was used at Shalamcheh during Operation Karbala-5, on civilian populations as well as Iranian troops).
The side effects of long term cortisone use include insomnia irritability, depression, swelling, obesity, diabetes, and depressed immune response. At one point Hussein has to climb four stories to deliver a pizza when a lift is out of order and the tenant won't come down; in the light of his condition, this appears rather more tragic. The character is very easy to sympathise with because, Hussein Emadeddin is played by Hussein Emadeddin, also a pizza deliveryman with severe health problems. There's a lot of realism here.
When thinking of post-war art in film, the term noir floats to the surface. Noir developed as an art form, if not necessarily an aesthetic, as a response to the zeitgeist of the Second World War's aftermath. An anonymous individual from the University Of San Diego has put it better than I can: "The historical setting is the contemporary world that has been corrupted and lost its moral certainty. The prevailing cynicism of characters reflects the reality of the atomic bomb, Cold War, totalitarianism, propaganda, Hollywood blacklist, corrupting power of the government and press. World War II fragmented men, caused them to feel adrift, insecure, alienated, a feeling of having "gone soft" and lacking power to control their lives. The liberal movement was in crisis, due to powerful forces of communism and materialism, causing a loss of faith in progress and man's innate goodness."
Since the war there's been a crisis for the liberal cause in Iranian society, which is referenced at one point by Hussein's friend Ali, who asks what it was like in (pre-theocratical) times when women walked around naked (without veils). It's clear that there's not much fun in the Iran of this world, in one scene Hussein asks a fifteen-year-old policeman if he's ever had fun, the young chap isn't even sure what the word means, and I think that makes two of them.
Despite Hussein having been pretty much left on the scrapheap, rotting in a dingy apartment to the tune of squeaking rats, he's a nice guy, and tries his best to be kind to folk. However, after a series of humiliations, he has had enough and commits a hideous folly. It's a film about injustice that manages to be, at the same time, warm-hearted, staggeringly beautiful and polemical. You can really take Hussein Emadeddin into your heart. Which is rare in a cinematic world where men are often armour plated and hard to love.
My respects for a profoundly humane film. Quite ironically it appears that Jafar Panahi was arrested within the last week whilst giving a dinner party at his home, an absurdity that you might think would make a good scene in a Panahi movie.
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