Saturday, 1 September 2007
Offside (2006) dir. Jafar Panahi
Starring: Sima Mobarak Shahi, Safar Samandar, Shayesteh Irani
“Offside” is a small Iranian film that toured the film festival circuit last year and is now available on DVD. It tells the story of a group of Iranian women who attempt to sneak into a World Cup Qualifying soccer match despite the cultural rule of no women allowed. “Offside” is conceived, marketed and packaged like a fanciful ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ comedy. Unfortunately it’s not – it’s slow and rather uneventful, and despite the important cultural statement, a boring film.
In June of 2005 the Iranian National Soccer team played the Bahrain National Soccer team to see who would make it to the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany. Aboard a jammed packed bus of rambunctious Iranian fans is Sima Mobarak-Shahi. She is dressed down, like a boy, covered in Iranian colours to disguise her from the security guards. As she’s about to enter the gates into the stadium she’s caught by the guards and exposed as being a woman. This is a no-no in Islamic society, no females are allowed in the stadium. She begs and pleads but to no avail, the guards whisk her away to a remote enclosure on one of the stadium ramps. Over the course of the game (and the film) more women disguised as men are caught and join Sima in the makeshift holding area. There they spend the rest of the match ‘imprisoned’ metres away from watching the action. The teasing sounds of the cheering crowd are the only connect they are allowed to the game.
A kinship develops between the girls, and their collective determination gets under the skin of the guards watching them. They manage to convince one of the guards to shout the play-by-play action of the game. It’s like Jack Nicholson and the crazies in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” watching baseball on the blank television screen - despite repression their imagination and self-respect allows them to retain their dignity and trump their captors. Before the end of the game the women are driven away to the police station. Everyone is upset – even the guards who want to watch the end of the game. But the bus ride home is even more exciting than being at the game. On the radio the guards and women listen intensely for the final thrilling moments of the game, and in doing so bond in their mutual patriotic love for team and country.
I’ve never been a lover of Iranian cinema. For a while that seemed to be the ‘it’ country for film snobs to cling to. Other than the great respect I have Abbas Kiarostami’s “A Taste of Cherry”, most Iranian films had a consistent pace to them that left me bored and unsatisfied. “Offside” is as such. As soon as Sima gets placed in the enclosed holding area, the rest of the film was predictable. Other than a sequence where one of the women escapes during a visit to the washroom, the film has few dramatic beats. It’s also billed as a comedy, but rarely did I crack a smile. There’s no jokes or gags, or even funny situations. Perhaps the in-joke is the girls outwitting the boys, but it’s never exploited enough cinematically to induce laughter.
The empowerment the women have against their born-into obstacles is admirable and the very ending indeed does provide satisfying closure. Panahi’s real-event style filming works well. He filmed most of the action during the actual game and celebration afterwards. The camera and actors seamlessly blends in with the real-life crowds. Unfortunately other than these peripheral aspects there’s not much else to praise or recommend in the film.
Buy it here: Offside