Further progressing in his abilities, Panahi turns the girl-power fable into political discourse in Offside. More than anything, what sticks out about the film is that nothing sticks out. The central character of Crimson Gold, an overweight pizza deliverer betrothed to his best friend's sister, gave the guise of narrative construction but in Offside, Panahi's canvas is broader and much more fluid.
At a soccer stadium in Tehran, a group of girls are held in a makeshift prison by a group of naïve male guards. See, it's Iranian law that women are not allowed in any public sports arena, but as always, the gals won't be held down. Donning boy outfits, soldier uniforms, and several other types of bro-worthy regalia, the girls brave dire punishments and some harsh words from their parents to be able to see their team go head-to-head with Bahrain in the World Cup qualifying match.
A serious sports film with political and sexual designs? A feminine-minded prison film in microcosm terms? Offside confounds the viewer in its simplicity, but there's so much going on in its contained universe that to call it anything but supremely dense would be an outright lie. Panahi, using non-actors as always, coaxes out natural, breathtaking performances from the guards and the prisoners. His biggest trick, however, is inverting the space of the stadium: the barriers that make up the makeshift prison outside the stadium give a claustrophobic mis-en-scene while the few shots of the inner stadium look as wide and open as the wild blue yonder.
In the film's key scene, one of the girls, in desperate need of a toilet, is led to the bathroom by one of the more daft guards of the group. Though he attempts to keep an eye on her, the rush of the soccer fans and his inability to keep an eye on her allows the girl to escape into the crowd and catch a few minutes of the game. Like Cool Hand Luke returning to tell George Kennedy and his compatriots about his days outside the pen, the girl returns before the game's end and holds her peers in rapture recalling the brief amount of game she witnessed.
It's in this moment that Panahi shows his greatest strength of will, never delineating from the idea of the girls as a cohesive unit. Battle of the sexes? Well-trodden territory that few filmmakers can bring sincere insight to. Offside is an audacious mini-panorama that is strikingly proficient at turning small spaces into entire galaxies. It's old hat to Panahi, but he's so damn good at it.
I'm gettin' outta here... to watch soccer!
Run time: 93 mins
In Theaters: Friday 26th May 2006
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Fresh: 79 Rotten: 4
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: Jafar Panahi
Producer: Jafar Panahi
Screenwriter: Jafar Panahi, Shadmehr Rastin
Starring: Jonas Karlsson as Anders, Brendan Coyle as Duncan Miller, Anja Lundkvist as Åsa, Torkel Petersson as Tommy, Göran Ragnerstam as Kent, Ingvar Hirdwall as Boston, Georgi Staykov as Branko, Björn Bengtsson as Peter
Also starring: Jafar Panahi