Soccer-mad girls in Iran have one goal: See the game live

Posted: May 18, 2007

You've scored a ticket to the World Cup qualifying match and stadium guards deny you entrance. What's your next move?

If you're a soccer-mad girl in Offside, a girl dressed as a boy because Iranian females are not permitted to attend sporting events, you strike, you go for the goal, you will not be denied.

Exhilarating, exuberant and drolly funny, Jafar Panahi's film is a sly piece of social commentary filmed stealthily, quasi-documentary style, during the 2006 qualifying match between Iran and Bahrain at Tehran's Azadi stadium.

There, at a moment of highest national pride, security guards detain girls whose crime is that they assumed a male prerogative.

As Iran and Bahrain clash on the soccer pitch, the young women clash with guards who have consigned them to a makeshift penalty box.

Like the girls, one of whom is in really serious trouble for impersonating an officer, we do not see the game, but hear the crowd roar, groan and whoop. And hear that the girls' soccer commentary is far more sophisticated than that of their captors.

Panahi, an Iranian filmmaker whose prior work includes The Circle, likewise a movie about women as second-class citizens, passes no judgment about the plight of the thwarted fans. But he clearly sympathizes with the plucky young women, who are walking encyclopedias of soccer and strategy.

Offside implicitly shows us how excluding women from the sports rituals has the unintended effect of barring them from sharing in the rites of nationalism.

From process to message, Panahi's film is subversive. When the filmmaker was denied official permission to make this movie, he proceeded anyway, submitting a less offensive script for review.

The result is that the palpable energy of women trying to crash a men's-only institution and that of a moviemaker likewise breaking the rules suffuses his exceptional film.


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://go.philly.com/flickgrrl/

Produced and directed by Jafar Panahi, distributed by Sony Picture Classics. In Farsi with English subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 33 mins.

Parent's guide: PG (some harsh language)

Showing at: Ritz at the Bourse

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