Offside [2006 Jafar Panahi Film] Review

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AKA: N/A

Genre: Sports/Comedy/Satire
Year Released: 2006

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Origin: Iran
Running Time: 93 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: The Iran Job, This Is Not A Film, Close-Up, She’s the Man
Notes: N/A

Fun Facts:
-Offside had a whopping filming budget of $2,500 to make. Let’s have some fun with math here. Paranormal Activity’s budget was made with six times the budget.

-The outcome of the film was entirely reliant on the 2006 World Cup qualifying match. Yes, this was filmed as the game went on directly in the stadium. This is as real as it gets despite it being a work of fiction.

-Despite being filmed in Iran, it’s actually banned in it’s home country. This shouldn’t be surprising given the content of the film and that’s not even getting into Jafar Panahi’s legal troubles years later.

-This is the 2nd film from Jafar Panahi to get distribution from a major mainstream studio and the only one where said distributor is still active.


The third time has to be the charm, right?

I hope you aren’t bored with me reviewing yet another film from the mind of Jafar Panahi. Well, too bad. I’m reviewing another one of his movies. His work has gotten my attention last year when I got back into watching lesser-known movies. Not to mention that his movie Taxi is the 2nd thing I’ve given 10 points to (and the 1st live-action film to do so since starting Iridium Eye). I find his work to be brave yet very creative. 

Let’s check out one of his lighter works which also got distribution from Sony of all people.

Offside takes place in 2005 where Iran is facing a hometown game in Tehran against Bahrain to get a qualifying spot for the 2006 World Cup. People are coming from all over the country to attend this game in the local stadium that can hold over 100,000 people inside it. There’s a lot of chanting, singing, horn-blowing, and people wearing the Iranian colors to support their national soccer team to get to the biggest event for the world of soccer. However, these people can get a ticket to see this important game…if they have a Y chromosome. There are girls who want to get into the stadium, but they’re only way they can see it is if they dress in drag to make it to the game. Only men can watch the games at the stadium by law lest any woman gets punished by the cops or vice squad. These girls get caught cross-dressing by the soldiers on-duty at the game and are detained in this small pen that happens to be close to a window, but they’re not at a vantage point to watch all the action on the field.

This was a fascinating, yet very realistic story. Offside could’ve been this movie that sacrifices the story for some propaganda, but it thankfully avoids it. The girls are in an unfair situation, but they don’t play up their victimized statuses. A lot of them give the soldiers grief, but there are times where they go too far. Even the soldiers are humanized characters. They could’ve easy been heartless jackboot jerks, but all of them are complete subversions of that trope. Not only are they completely reluctant in their jobs as they complain about how long left they all have to serve, but they only do it out of fear because of their chief. Some of them are soccer fans although other ones are completely out of their league when it comes to their soccer knowledge when a few of the girls school them in terms of knowledge at that sport. I thought it was incredibly refreshing to see both sides of the equation being more than just characters. I could see them as people in an awkward situation that could happen in that Middle Eastern country. I thought it was strange how most of the characters weren’t named, but the personalities and situations were entirely believable.

While Panahi specializes in making great movies despite low-budgets and government censorship issues, I’ll say that Offside is his best looking movie I’ve seen from him. The cinematography looks WAY better than the budget he had for this film. There are independent movies made later and with more money that don’t look as good as this. The depth of the scenery, the magnitude of the stadium in Tehran, and the night scenes were filmed with great competence over here. Sure, it’s not Hollywood level, but for a movie that was most likely filmed out of the director’s pockets without the bank accounts of a Martin Scorsese or a Clint Eastwood, this looks great.

I enjoyed the social commentary with the characters and their interactions. You have these desperate drag kings wanting to see the game with some of the soldiers making lame excuses of why they can’t. One argument that shows up is that the environment is too obscene for them to be in. There are several male extras who know the girls are in drag, but they don’t even care. Not one of them is even tempted to mug or sexually assault them. It’s even implied that a lot of these extra characters don’t care about that law or possibly want that law to be revoked by their reactions to the girls.

The comedy is quite good with the timing and chemistry. For a movie consisting of nothing but non-professional actors, they all are great acting with their facial expressions and vocal inflections. You can feel their passion ad desire for wanting to go to the game. Some of the funniest scenes involve one of the girls needing to use the bathroom. One of the soldiers gets a poster of one of the players, pokes the eyes out, laces one of his bootstraps around it to make a improvised mask for the girl to wear. It was so farcical, that I just couldn’t stop laughing as he puts the mask on her as he escorts her to the bathroom. The girls also convince the soldiers to offer commentary for the game since they can’t see the game literally and figuratively.

Offside does run into some problems though. One of them was the lack of names for the characters. I don’t want to refer the people as the smoking girl, the soldier uniform girl, etc. It would be better if the characters were clearly named. Same with the soldiers. Sure, the ones with the most personality were the country guy and the bathroom escort solder, but you don’t know that much about the others and the chief. I also thought the subplot with the father finding his daughter at the stadium to go nowhere. It lead to a great scene with the country soldier telling the father not to hit a woman, but it gets dropped quite fast. I also disagreed with that pre-movie explanation that talks about the outcome of the 2005 game. I get that it provides sociopolitical context to those not familiar with Iran’s culture, but it spoils a HUGE element of the ending. The ending is still great and it wasn’t just about the outcome of the game, but I wish they wouldn’t have done that.

This soccer movie was a good watch. I didn’t like it as much as Taxi or even This Is Not A Film, but it’s still worth checking out regardless. The cinematography is great and looks more expensive than what the movie actually was. The acting is superb as these amateurs were more impressive than most professional actors. I hope those people have careers after this movie. One message of the film was that soccer can unite everyone despite where they are in life. They show it instead of telling it and it never comes off as cheesy at all. I’d say they did the whole “sports uniting others” angle was handled much better than how The Iran Job did it, and I really liked that docudrama. The lack of named characters was really confusing though. Definitely watch Offside. It’s certainly a strong enough kick to make a goal.


Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you like soccer
Subtract 2-3 points if you prefer sports action in your films

Pros:
-Great cinematography
-Hilarious satire and situations while still being believable
-Stunning acting despite the actors being amateurs

Cons:
-Lack of named characters
-Some plot points come and go out-of-nowhere
-Pre-Movie explanation spoils a MAJOR element of the movie

Final Score: 8/10 points

Content Warning: This film is rated PG, but I have doubts about that. I thought the language was way too strong for a PG movie with most of the swearing coming from the smoking girl. There is some dialogue that has some innuendo such as when one of the girls is asked about her gender by one of the soldiers where she responds with “Which one do you prefer?” Don’t expect this to be on the same par as Shrek or Frozen despite having the same official rating from the MPAA even though Offside is better than both of those movies.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

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