Opening 29 Jun 2006
A young girl disguised as a boy is on a bus full of all-male soccer fans on their way to an important game, Iran against Bahrain, in Azadi Stadium. This is her first attempt to watch a soccer game live and she is nervous. In the end, she fails and lands in a small fenced-in, guarded area behind the stadium, where other girls with the same foiled plans are collected to be turned over to the vice squad. From this point the film takes off in a wicked comedy with hidden, and sometimes obvious, digs at macho Iranian society. United girl power made me feel sorry for the young men who were just following orders and trying to subdue a handful of single-minded females. The girls discuss their various disguises for passing as male, correct the guards on their pitiful lack of soccer savvy, and listen to the roar of the crowds behind them as Iran completes a successful pass. What to do when a girl has to go to the toilette and these are only for men? And they are full of embarrassing graffiti, as well as men? This little scene alone is worth the price of a ticket. The film ends with guards, girls, and one boy on a bus on the road to the authorities. They listen to the game’s final moments on the bus radio and celebrate in the ensuing party pandemonium on the streets when Iran wins.
This is a highly recommended film for many reasons besides being funny and well-made. The director Jafar Panahi had already won prizes in Cannes, Venice, and Locarno for past films, and now Offside has won the Silver Bear (second place for best film) at the 2006 Berlinale. Product placement is important and showing Offside here during the World Championship fits perfectly into the spirit of the moment and, if you are hiding from the soccer freaks, then Offside is an alternative option. The topic of allowing women into Iranian soccer stadiums is very current. The film girls ask why are Japanese women are allowed into the stadium, while they aren’t. The guards tell them they should be content to watch at home on TV. This has political weight. Just recently the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, decreed that women would be allowed access to soccer stadiums. Immediately, Iran’s religious leaders negated the new ruling on exactly the same grounds as those mentioned in the film. Omid Nouripour, German-Iranian politician in Berlin, wrote in the Suddeutsche Zeitung that for Iranians soccer and the internet are the two windows to the world, and after successful games, strangers of both sexes celebrate in the streets in true equality, thumbing collective noses at religious rules. See Offside and celebrate with them. Viewing this film is a privilege that Iranians will not have in their own country. (Becky Tan)