by RISHI AGRAWAL
Once again, this is one of those weeks where there is nothing to recommend among the current crop of new releases. So I turn to a film that was released on DVD a few weeks ago and that I am glad that I caught up with. It’s always a pleasure to be able to recommend a relatively obscure film.
Offside is an Iranian film by Jafar Panahi. It takes place during a soccer game between Iran and Bahrain, with the winner going to the World Cup. We see none of the game itself, though, as the entire film takes place just outside the stadium. In Iran, women are not allowed to go to soccer games. So women who want to go to the game are forced to dress as men and try to sneak in. This film follows the exploits of a group of women trying to get into the game and their subsequent detention by the guards.
The interesting thing about the film is that the government feels that it is being paternalistic by not allowing the women into the game. The soldiers who arrest the women keep repeating the same rhetoric: that it is not safe for women to be in a large crowd of men, and that they might hear the men swearing and making crude comments, especially if Iran loses. The women are headstrong and opinionated, and it seems hard to believe that anything would shock them. It would have been easy to turn the characters into caricatures by making the women noble and self-righteous and making the men stubborn and arrogant, but the characters are deeper than that.
The soldiers try their best to accommodate the women while still trying to follow orders. One soldier watches the game through a gate and provides a running commentary for the women who are being detained, though he can’t help but rhapsodize about his hometown hero. And the women care deeply about soccer. They are huge fans of the game and extremely patriotic towards Iran, a country that is denying them access to the sport in the first place.
From a filmmaking perspective, the amazing thing about the film is that it is mostly filmed during the actual game in question. For the filmmaker and the actors to not know the result of the game and still be able to give us a compelling movie is remarkable.
I should note that the film is a comedy and so, while the depth and complexity are there, it still works as a comedy. There is one scene where one of the detainees has to go to the bathroom, but there are no women’s restrooms at the stadium. A soldier tries to escort her to the men’s restroom in a very funny scene.
This is a great movie about the politics of sport, but also the power of sport to bring people together. The DVD doesn’t seem to have any features of note, but this is definitely worth a rental.
New releases this week: 1408, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Jindabyne