Offside

With “Offside,” a poignant tale of prejudice and football, the gifted Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi continues his insightful inquiry into the Islamic constrictions imposed by the Iranian government on various issues.

Panahi has made several films about women, but this one is lighter in tone and more personal than the others, due to its origins. Inspired by the day when his own daughter was refused entry to a soccer stadium in Iran, “Offside” follows a day in the life of a group of Iranian girls attempting to watch their teams World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain at the stadium in Tehran.

It's a strange sports film, because it achieves poignancy without showing a single shot of a ball in the entire story!

Many Iranian girls love soccer as much as their male counterparts, but they are prevented by law from attending live soccer matches in their country. A disparate group of girls, united only by their desire to see their beloved team play live and in-person, disguise themselves in myriad ways, risking arrest to try to get into the game.

The girls are either caught trying to get in, or are spotted in the crowd once they make it past the entry guards. All are taken to a holding area on the upper level of the stadium, where they are tortured by being able to hear the roar of the crowd–without being able to see what is happening in the match.

The young women, who range from timid to tomboy, are guarded by a group of nave young soldiers who would rather be watching the game themselves, out with their girlfriends, or at home looking after their sheep.

The soldiers and their prisoners are so close in age, and the girls crimes so harmless, that they have a hard time maintaining their adversarial roles. As they wait out the game, the young men interact with and befriend the generally far more savvy women.

Indeed, one girl is a tomboy from the city who taunts the guards about their country ways. Another young woman relates the adventure that got her caught to cheers from the other girls–she stole an officers uniform to disguise herself, but made the mistake of sitting in the wrong chair in the VIP enclosure.

The satire reaches its high tones, when one young soldier who is as much a fan as his captives, is persuaded into shouting out the highlights of the game as he watches through a gate. Scolded by a slightly superior officer, his punishment is being forced to escort one of the girls to the bathroom. Fearful of how the men in the stadium might react, he punches out the eyes of a cardboard players poster to make a mask for his prisoner, so she wont offend any men on the way.

“Offside” gets richer in text and subtext as the tale goes along. Hence, one girl turns out not to be a soccer fan at all, but has her own sentimental reasons for wanting to be at the game in honor of a friend.

As the game nears its end, the girls are rounded up in a van to be transported to jail, along with another young man who was caught setting off firecrackers in the stadium. The soldier in charge is persuaded to turn on the radio, so they can hear the final moments of the game on the way. When Iran defeats Bahrain to win the qualifying match, the day ends happily for all.
Through the presentation of a variety of females (and males), Panahi pokes fun at some deeply rooted gender clichs and stereotypes, while exploring the unifying power of sports, one that goes beyond gender, religion, and even nationality.

This latest panel in Panahi's growing body of work fits into his general cinematic approach, which is often described as Iranian neo-realism. But regardless of how you choose to label Panahi's powerful work, the unprecedented humanitarianism of his films cannot be denied. Panahi's cinema is urban, contemporary and rich with the details of human existence.

As noted, Panahi has done more than other male directors in dealing with specific women's issues. You may recall that “The Circle,” which won the Golden Lion at the 2000 Venice Film Festival, was an unsettling drama about the social dilemma of modern Iranian women. And Panahi's first film, “The White Baloon,” winner of the prestigious Camera dOr at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, told the story of a young girls adventures as she seeks to buy a lucky goldfish for New Year.

Cast

Sima Mobarak Shahi First girl
Safar Samandar Azari Soldier
Shayesteh Irani Smoking girl
M. Kheyrabadi Mashadi soldier
Ida Sadeghi Girl soccer player
Golnaz Farmani Girl with chador
Mahnaz Zabihi Soldier girl
Nazanin Sedighzadeh Young girl
M. Kheymeh Kabood Tehrani Soldier
Mohsen Tanabandeh Ticket seller
Reza Farhadi Old man
M. R. Gharadaghi Boy with firecrackers

Crew

Producer, director, editor: Jafar Panahi
Director of Photography Mahmood Kalari
Screenplay Jafar Panahi and Shadmehr Rastin
Sound Engineer: Reza Delpak
Sound Recordist: Nezam-e-din Nezam Kiaee
Set Designer: Iraj Raminfar
Make-up Artist: Parmis Zand