Jafar Panahi's “Crimson Gold,” premiering Thursday, June 17, at the Smith Opera House, is a stark, minimalist near-masterpiece about the creation of a murderer in modern Iran.
The film's killer is a chunky, uncommunicative pizza deliveryman named Hussein (Hussein Emadeddin), a likable, bearish chap with an odd, off-center stare. He has a close friend, Ali (Kamyar Sheissi), and a gentle bride-to-be, Ali's sister (Azita Rayeji). In his everyday dealings, he seems calm and considerate. Yet, in the very first scene of “Crimson Gold,” he lurches into the motionless camera frame like a hulking beast, killing a well-to-do jeweler (Shahram Vaziri) in his shop and then taking his own life.
What makes a killer: environment or predisposition? Or both? Producer-director Panahi (“The Circle,” “The White Balloon”) and his great screenwriter, fellow filmmaker and onetime mentor Abbas Kiarostami, obviously feel that social context is crucial in comprehending unlikely acts of violence. (This one was based on real life.)
Panahi and Kiarostami, firmly in the modern neo-realist tradition, show us Hussein's downfall. It begins when Hussein and Ali discover an abandoned purse with a broken ring and a receipt for a necklace. When they go the jewelry shop to check it out — the same one which is the site of the later slaying and suicide — they are refused entry because of their working-class attire. When they return again, with Ali's sister, in their best clothes, they meet with a slightly more polite snub.
Hussein's everyday life reveals more humiliations. A stranger mistakes him and Ali for thieves. Police staking out a wild party refuse him entry for a delivery. Finally, he brings pizzas to an addled but friendly rich man (Pourang Nakhayi) who invites him to chow down and complains about his confused love life while granting Hussein a glimpse of his inherited splendor.
The Smith Opera House screens “Crimson Gold” at 7 p.m. June 17 and 18, at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 20 and at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 22. In Farsi, with English subtitles, this film has a running time of 97 minutes. It has no MPAA rating, though parents are cautioned for mature themes and language. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors. All seats on Thursday are $3 and $2 on Tuesday. Call 315-781-5483 or toll-free 866-355-5483 for details or to pre-order tickets.
The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.