Offside Jafar Panahi

This isn’t one of Jafar Panahi’s great films — The Circle and Crimson Gold were tough acts to follow — and Offside winds up singing in more of a minor key. Still, it’s teeming with detail and stuffed with juicy bits. Sort of a comic version of The Circle, Offside deals with a group of Iranian girls who try to crash a football game. As women aren’t legally allowed to attend public sporting events this proves a difficult and dangerous pastime. The film begins with a girl in drag unsuccessfully trying to enter a stadium then being whisked off to the holding tank (okay, a bunch of metal crowd barriers) where other miscreant women are being kept. Needless to say, insults and bickering abound, and the country bumpkin policeman has his work cut out for him as the defiant Tehrani malcontents shower him with abuse. Meanwhile, a hilarious sequence has a guard trying to ward off male sports fans when one of the girls has to use the restroom. The tone is surprisingly light for a film about such serious subject matter — even the final ride to the vice squad is upstaged by Iran’s thrilling entrance into the World Cup. Though he doesn’t bowl you over, Panahi is very clever in his interweaving of a political mandate with a general celebration of Iranian sport. His film is not so in love with its soapbox that it winds up missing the point, which is the deliciousness of public sport and the silliness of depriving half the population of the right to enjoy it. Writing about it now makes it seem more than I initially imagined. Watch it and you might be surprised. (Mongrel Media)