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MOVIE REVIEW

Spinning a tale of desperation out of 'Gold'

This is a reprinted review that incorrectly ran in last week's Globe."

Crimson Gold" opens in remarkable distress. A man holds up a small jewelry store in Tehran. It's empty save for the harried jeweler who runs it. A woman comes in and runs out when she realizes what's happening. The alarm goes off, and the robber, a big hulk of a man, shoots the jeweler, who's just off-screen. Outside, in daylight and in front the store's iron gate, a frantic crowd gathers, including the gunman's friend, who wants to know why on earth he's shooting people, but he just waves them back and busts open some of the cases.

The sequence is filmed in a single, static take, with the camera positioned so the store's entrance becomes the center of the frame. By the robbery's conclusion, the camera has crept from the back of the store to the front, and we're left with a chilling, abjectly ironic awareness of the chasm between chaos and control. The camera's sobriety can capture mayhem, but it can't stop it from happening.

The director of "Crimson Gold" is Iran's Jafar Panahi, who also made "The White Balloon" and "The Circle," a stinging, tautly structured indictment of Iranian society told through its women's eyes.

"Crimson Gold" takes us back to the days before the botched heist, whipping us from that gunshot and static camera to a motorbike flying through the streets of Tehran. We meet the demoralized robber in a less desperate but no less unhappy state. His name is Hussein (Hussein Emadeddin), and he has a large face that seems to be swallowing his eyes and his mouth and whatever else he'd need to complete a communicative facial expression. His pal Ali (Kamyar Sheissi) arrives with a purse he claims he found. From it falls a gold wedding band and a note about an expensive Italian necklace at a jewelry shop.

The two hop on Ali's bike and head over to the shop. They want to see what such a pricey necklace looks like. But the owner (Shahram Vaziri) takes one look at them and says to try someplace else. Ali lets the incident go, but Hussein has a tough time moving on. You start to see his weight as an extension of his inability to put life's humiliations behind him. Quite literally, he's heavy with hurt.

Written by the director Abbas Kiarostami, who wrote Panahi's debut, "The White Balloon," the film takes us through protracted snapshots of Hussein's life. On any given night, his pizza-delivery job could bring Hussein to a building with a broken elevator, which means a trip up several flights of stairs. (Indeed, Emadeddin really delivers pizzas for a living.) His customers include a former co-worker who doesn't recognize him because of his weight gain. As the slights to his dignity increase, Hussein grows frustrated and sad.

Hussein gets a respite when a rich, American-bred kid invites him into his palatial bachelor pad to share a pizza. While the boy ignores him to talk on his cell phone, Hussein tours the house, samples the libations, and has a swim. The next day, hungover more from dispossession than alcohol, he pulls his heist.

To a large extent, "Crimson Gold" is about the unbearable weight of being. The film, however, is deceptively light in its construction, built of long sequences and enduring silences. Spareness is a virtue for Panahi as he contemplates the space between commentary and cinema. Emadeddin's work is unaffected but deeply informed, and no close-ups or reaction shots are required to feel his character's pain. His emotionality is a surprise because it's emitted more than expressed. This is the first beautiful performance in the year's first great movie.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com.

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