by Afra Nariman
Director: Jafar Panahi
Stars: Sima Mobarak-Shahi, Shayesteh Irani, Ayda Sadeqi, Golnaz Farmani, Mahnaz Zabihi, Nazanin Sediq-zadeh
Early in Offside, an elderly man offers an explanation to a couple of younger men who ask him why, to preserve his health, he doesn’t stay home to watch the game on TV:
“But the stadium is something else. You shout, you chant, you do the Wave. But best of all, you can curse everything and everyone… say whatever you like, and no one bothers you.”
This early statement establishes two modes of thought that come to be both integrated and interrogated throughout the remainder of the film. First, it is precisely the fact that men “curse everything and everyone” while watching the game, that the soldiers continuously cite as a reason women are not allowed in the stadium alongside men. Second, it illustrates just why this right matters, and what someone who is prohibited to attend these games, would be missing out on. The enforced exclusion of women from the stadium — a place where you can “say whatever you like, and no one bothers you” — is also indicative of the broader reality that women do not have the same rights as men in the gender apartheid society ruled by the Islamic Republic — that they are by far the more suppressed individuals in all facets of such a society. Offside essentially illustrates the extent to which politics effect the daily lives of people in Iran — especially the lives of women. In less words, this early statement establishes the stakes of the very real issues being depicted in the film.
Before even the scene I outlined above, in the title cards of the film, Panahi tells us the real-life outcome of the World Cup qualifying game that the entire film is structured around. Right off the bat, he
de-centers that narrative, and places the story in a specific time and place that is directly grounded in reality. The film is shot at the actual game that it is depicting, and therefore a large majority of the film is shot over the course of just a single day. In other words, Panahi makes sure we know that what we’re watching — even if the characters are ones he wrote in — is real. Specifically, the environment and the forces which shape the laws of this environment, are presented as they really are.
The first act, when we observe women who are attempting to sneak into the stadium — notably named “Azadi,” or “Freedom” stadium — disguised as men, is expressive of the experience of women in Iran, generally — i.e. constantly looking over their shoulders, needing to be cognizant of where they are, and who they’re with, etc. The entire film operates as a microcosm; as one event that can be translated to represent the macro-status quo.
This broader perspective is constantly intertwined with the focused narrative of the women who are arrested after being caught trying to sneak into the stadium. When the fans in the stadium are chanting, “What does Iran do?” — thecamera isn’t on the fans, or the game (which the next line of their chant acknowledges). Notably, the camera is instead on a woman who is being arrested after getting caught trying to enter the stadium — something that should be a basic right for everyone. The women that the film is centered around are caught relatively early in the film. Offside then transitions to focus on revealing how ridiculous and illogical the misogynistic policies enforced by the government are, how the soldiers who do the enforcing are brainwashed into following orders and believing in the invalid reasonings for the existence of these policies, and on subverting the stereotypes that the implementation of these policies are often intertwined with and wrongfully justified with by the men who enforce them.
At one point in the film, a solider attempts to explain why “football (soccer) isn’t a women’s sport” to one of the imprisoned women, who is a player herself. The soldiers constantly express their opinion that “women and men are not the same,” in the context of playing/understanding the sport. Panahi’s reactionary subversion of these misogynistic stereotypes is evident in multiple scenes of the film, where the imprisoned women exhibit their superior knowledge and understanding of the sport, compared to that of the men who have detained and disrespected them. This is illustrated especially clearly in a significant scene where one of the women directs everyone else in acting out a play as if they were the players on the field. The ignorance and stupidity of the soldiers, in all aspects — not only in scenes regarding their discussion of football — is representative of the sheer incompetency and stupidity of the Islamic Republic regime, generally. Again, all parts of the film also act as a micro-presentation of macro-criticisms.
An important moment of Offside comes when one soldier says to the others that there is a large group of women who are watching the game, that haven’t been arrested because there were numerous “foreign journalists” around, and “they (the authorities and the regime’s officials) don’t want unnecessary attention.” The Islamic Republic has always wanted to keep its injustices and crimes against humanity a secret from the rest of the world. When the world is unaware, (or often it has been the case that the world ignores these things), they feel as though they can get away with doing whatever despicable things they want. Just as the threat of it does in this film; acknowledgement by Western leaders, media, and the general population outside of Iran is vital for minimizing the regime’s violence and oppression. Moreover, understanding this dynamic and acting on it, has never been as important as it is today, in support of their current revolution and in ensuring its success.
A critical detail in how Panahi frames the story, is that the film clearly and consistently differentiates between the people/culture of Iran, and the government of the Islamic Republic — something that the Western world has often wrongfully conflated in various ways. In concert with this distinction, Panahi emphasizes the importance for men in general society to not perpetrate more of the misogynistic treatment that women already experience in all aspects of the public sphere under the oppression of the Islamic Republic. The final sequence of the film firmly cements Panahi’s sentiment regarding the differentiation I am referring to — that not only is the Islamic Republic not representative of Iran’s people and culture; but also that its relentless oppression will not diminish the true spirit of Iranians and their culture. In the final scene, as the entire city is celebrating the national team’s win which qualified them for the 2006 World Cup, the Iranian national anthem plays:
“Oh Iran, the land full of jewels, your soul is a wellspring of arts. Far from you be the thoughts of the wicked. May your lasting be eternal…”
The preservation of the Iranian spirit can never be entirely suppressed — it’s lasting is eternal. That is the lasting message of Offside, and it is the reality on display today, in Iran.
Zan • Zendegi • Azadi ~ (Jin • Jiyan • Azadi)💚🤍❤️
MY RATING /5:
View this Review on Letterboxd: https://boxd.it/3omHaH
Like and Follow on Letterboxd to see my other reviews, and for new ones regularly