With his new film Offside, director Jafar Panahi (Crimson Gold, The Circle) decided to use a real-life experience as the inspiration for a fictionalized story. Set in Tehran (the capital city of Iran), Offside follows a day in the life of a group of young Iranian girls desperate to watch their football (or soccer) team's World Cup qualifying match against Bahrain live and in person at the stadium in Tehran. The only problem is women are forbidden from entering the stadium during a football match because of the potential dangers they might face when mixed in with a bunch of rowdy, foul-mouthed fans.
Thus, the girls go to great lengths to disguise themselves as men in an attempt to sneak past the guards and gain access. What follows is a hilarious (and at times, poignant) glimpse into the life of hardcore football fans denied the simple luxury of watching their hometown team toss a ball around all because of their sex, and the harsh realities that go along with being a woman in a country that refuses to treat them as equals.
Tapping into an experience he had four years ago where his own daughter was denied entry into a stadium, only to later discover that she had somehow managed to sneak in and join him, Panahi takes a very light-hearted approach to the situation, instead of a more dramatic "look how poorly these women are being treated" approach.
Though there isn't a clear, distinct storyline to follow, Offside thrives off its many small, unique moments of comedy. As each girl is swept up by security and stuck in a holding pen on the upper level of the stadium, their spirited determination clashes with a group of bumbling guards whose focus on the task at hand is constantly thrown off course by the ferocious roars from the crowd. In fact, they'd love to watch the game too -- at one point the girls talk a guard into calling out a play-by-play so that they know what's taking place on field -- but with a no-nonsense senior officer in charge (who, at times, feels bad for the women as well), their heart-felt pleas for just a small peak at the action often go unheard. In one of the more memorable scenes, one guard is placed in charge of taking a girl to the bathroom. Seeing as it involves placing a female in a men's restroom, the guard disguises her by cutting the eyes out of a cardboard player's poster and placing it over her head. Once inside, the action escalates as this poor guard does all he can to remove each drunken male from the bathroom so that his female prisoner can relieve herself in peace.
If there's a downside to Offside, it's that the acting isn't exactly top-notch stuff. The dialogue is a bit rough at times, and it seemed like Panahi just threw these girls in front of a camera with one command: Act like you'd do anything to see the game. However, since the film often looks and feels like a documentary -- for a majority of the time Panahi drops the camera in front of the holding pen and simply lets the action unfold in front of us -- these small issues serve the pic's natural (and almost un-scripted) environment. What's refreshing about Offside is that Panahi goes out of his way to make the film fun, choosing to show how ridiculous this law really is through comedy, instead of drowning us in politics and sorrow.