Having Fun Offside

Posted: December 1, 2008 in All and Sundry

offside_dvdMost of the Iranian films I have watched (mind you, there were a few) were always depressing, bittersweet, and sad reflections of social realities that are never neutral. Offside (2006), a film directed by Iranian director Jahar Panahi has finally proven my general observation wrong.

The film is a funny yet brutally honest and intelligent portrayal of a particular social, cultural and most of all, controversial gender debate–the heart of the story is the issue that in Iran women are officially banned from sporting events and not allowed to enter sports stadiums. Despite the heavy issue that the movie centers on, one can feel no underlying judgments, no editorializing, but just lucid storytelling through a documentary style. As viewer you are made to see both sides in the gender polemics and form your own opinion on the many-sided debate.

Set in one “auspicious” day when Iran’s football team plays against Bahrain to qualify a spot in the World Cup, the movie follows the day in the lives of five girls who dressed up as boys just to be able to enter the stadium, watch the game, and cheer for their favorite players. Of course, the girls were caught by the soldiers guarding the premises, and so they were fenced in one small area behind the stadium, and were not allowed to watch the game. They could only hear the audience cheering. It is in that fenced area that the entire movie’s story starts, then revolves on their interaction with the male soldiers, with themselves, and their love for the sport.

Aside from the witty dialogue that definitely made me howl and giggle, what made the movie really effective is the way it was told through documentary style, the camera moves like a transparent eye, always following, zooming in and out, and affording a kind of cinema verite appeal. Colors were neutral yet vivid. The best part I think is that the movie relied heavily on ambient noise one can hear during big soccer games, which effectively gave a sense of immediacy. Even a big chunk of the movie was shot during the actual game between Iran and Bahrain in 2006. Perhaps the really get the exact feel and mood of the event.

I also liked how the actresses were chosen as each girl in the movie had different looks that made them larger than life yet at the same time familiar like the girls next door whom you used to play jackstone or kick ball with back then.

My favorite part in the movie was when one of the girls had to pee in the men’s room and one of the male soldiers was forced to accompany her. While waiting for her to do her thing, the male soldier made sure that no one gets in the loo. A crowd of boys have already gathered in front of him, pushing him, demanding why they weren’t allowed to go inside. When one of the boys saw the girl he secretly signaled to her to sneak out of the comfort room while they distract the male soldier.

I found that moment in the movie very poignant, and it speaks so clearly of how complex gender relations are even in countries that are often portrayed as a culture of gender imbalance. The very idea that the boy allowed, or even participated as accomplice in the girl’s transgression of social norms is a reflection of how humanity is capable of subverting the barriers of gender divide created by ideological rule.

In the end, the movie speaks of not so much the differences that gender creates, but the similarities that it forges in times of liminality, in times of celebration. Iran won the game against Bahrain, hence, qualifies for the World Cup, which is a major deal in among the football fanatic citizens. The girls celebrate with the soldiers, the people in the streets, the fans, yelling cheers and popping firecrackers. In the end, it did not matter that they were girls after all. What mattered was the love of game that brought them all together.

If you want to laugh at the same time see a totally different side of the stereotypical image of Iran’s women, watch this film. You will learn a lot.

* I’m definitely happy that I decided to buy this dvd at Shotlist. It was worth it.*

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