The movies that come to us from Iran are among the quietest ever made, yet their silence is charged with a foreboding that verges on despair, maybe even menace. In the opening moments of Jafar Panahi's Crimson Gold, the menace explodes: The burly, haunted Hussein (Hussein Emadeddin) enters a jewelry store, only to shoot the owner and turn the gun on himself. The rest of the film is a flashback to that moment -- an explication of what it is in Iranian society that could bring a man to such an ugly catharsis.
Panahi's last film, ''The Circle,'' was a powerful vision of women in repression and revolt. This time, though, he's working from a script by Abbas Kiarostami, who never met a monosyllabic brooder he didn't like. As Hussein waits outside a fancy party that is being watched by the police, the film hovers, nearly wordlessly, on the ominous surveillance. It lingers for about 15 minutes, which is more than enough time to digest the message: that having too much fun may be a crime in Tehran. ''Crimson Gold'' is a fable of money as the root of jealousy, discord, violence, but the film's slippery fascination as sociological exposé is the flip side of its thinness as drama.