Lighter in tone but still a companion
piece to his devastating 2000 film The Circle, the superb
Offside finds director Jafar Panahi continuing his exploration of the
difficulties of a woman's place in contemporary Iran. The ingenious
concept of Offside puts most of the action at a large soccer
stadium in Tehran, where a group of young women--banned from the game on
the sole basis of their sex--have been captured by stadium guards after
sneaking inside. Not only are they in a kind of holding pen awaiting
arrest, the girls can't even glimpse the World Cup qualifying match
between Iran and Bahrain, although they can hear the sounds of the crowd.
(They've made themselves up to look like boys, thus risking serious
consequences for the sake of their fandom, but the no-women-allowed rule
is in place to "protect" them from the rough habits of men.) Panahi
actually withholds the game itself, focusing on the interactions between
the girls and their guards--a group of disaffected guys who would rather
be watching the game themselves. At every turn Panahi illuminates some
subtle point about the limits put on women, yet the film is full of humor.
The viewer is left not with a political tract but with rich human comedy,
and with the idea that the spectacle of a white ball pushed across a green
field might bring people together in a way that transcends sex, class, or
the oppressive rules of a regime.