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Left behind
Jafar Panahi's new film raises fear and guilt

April 2, 2004

It is Wednesday night and I am sitting in front of my therapist, in Northern California. She tells me: "I think the key to getting to the root cause of your problems is to know about your past, especially your life in Iran. Tell me... how was it?"

"I don't know, I am not sure what should I tell you? It was what it was, a life."

Fast forward to the Friday night we are in a movie theater watching Jafar Panahi's "Crimson Gold", an Iranian tale of life. The story of Hossein, a pizza delivery man, who is a veteran still suffering from the wounds of war, living in the oppressed land I used to call home and will never let go of me.

The movie follows Hossein in his daily life, numb from medication, unable to react well to the world, but is as human as anybody else can be. He is in love and has a fiancé, for whom he buys a white purse because her brother told him she likes "a bride's purse". He wants to buy her jewlery but is humiliated by an arrogant jewelry store owner who treats him as a low-life who should be shopping in the downtown bazaar, not uptown Tehran.

One evening when Hossein goes to deliver pizza to a home in a well to do area of Tehran, he is caught by surprise; the the vice squad is outside arresting those leaving a loud party on the second floor. There standing is a 15-years old solider staring at the window where he can see the shadow of people dancing. "I will stop them with my gun, if they try to run away," he says.

Hossein isn't allowed to deliver the pizzas; the vice commander thinks the party goers might find out about the trap outside. "At least they are having fun up there, what about me and you?" Hossein says to the boy soldier. Then in true Iranian fashion he takes out the pies from the delivery box and offers "pizzas from the sky" to the squad, and the worried families outside.

I wish my therapist was there watching the movie with me. I was one of those young girls coming out of a simple party. I was held captive by the same poor soldiers waiting for us outside until early hours of the morning, hungry, and thirsty.

By chance, Hossein spends his last night in a luxury penthouse owned by the rich parents of a disoriented young man visiting from the U.S. He takes a swim in a fancy indoor pool and getting drunk and burping over a magnificent view of Tehran.

Meanwhile in a nice spring afternoon in Northern California's wealthiest city, this Iranian girl with a job in corporate America goes to spare some dollars in support of an Iranian movie. She went through the same humiliation for having some innocent fun at a party. She finally found a way out -- maybe because she was born into privilege -- but left those soldiers and Hossein back in Iran stuck in the tangle of life.

In the next session she may tell her therapist what it was like to live in Iran: "Contradiction, paradox, and confusion." She will tell her: "I had all the fun, and Hossein and a poor 15-year-old country boy were stuck down there forever."

She may even ask her to help her get rid of her guilty conscience.

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By Linda Ghassemi



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