Offside (2006)

Rated PG. Our ratings: V- 0; L- 3; 2 S/N-1. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes.

As in all the churches of the saints, women
should be silent in the churches. For they are
not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate,
as the law also says. If there is anything they
desire to know, let them ask their husbands at
home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak
in church
1 Corinthians 14:33b-35

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no l
onger slave or free, there is no longer male and
female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28

Offside

Jafar Panahi’s film probably did not cost as much as the catering services for the usual Hollywood blockbuster, but what a difference in quality! The plot centers around six teenaged girls and a soccer game, but this is not another Bend It Like Beckham or Gracie. These girls simply want to get into the stadium to watch a game, not to play it. Unfortunately for them, the stadium is in Tehran, and thus these girls live in a society that is overly protective of its females. Mr. Panahi shows in the interchange between the girls and the soldiers who catch them trying to sneak in disguised as boys how absurd the custom is.

Perhaps trying to universalize their plight, the director/writer does not give them specific names, the cast list calling them “First Girl” (Sima Mobarak Shahi), “Smoking Girl” (Shayesteh Irani), and so on. As the girls are caught and put in a restricted area just outside one of the gates, we see that the soldiers assigned to guard them are not much older—just boys longing for the day when their term of service will end and they can return to their homes. The soldiers refuse to give in to the pleas of the girls to be allowed to see the game, though they do consent to assign one of their number to watch through the gateway and give a running commentary.

It becomes clear that the girls know as much about soccer as the boys, their love of the game leading them to try to sneak in. This is the final Asian regional game, between Iran and Bahrain: whichever team wins will go to the 2006 World Cup games, so both male and females are keenly interested in the outcome. The absurdity of the situation is seen when one girl with her face painted the colors of the Iranian flag, asks why the women from Japan have been allowed into the stadium, and the soldier replies, “Because they’re Japanese.” “So the problem is I am Iranian?” she asks.

In Iran this is a very subversive question, making this simple little film so dangerous that it is banned in the director’s own country, as have been his previous ones. I wondered how he made this film outside the Tehran stadium while a big game was being played inside, until I read that Mr. Panahi had told the authorities that he was making a different kind of film, and then went ahead and shot his real one. It is a credit both to his courage and a sign of his audacity that he has chosen to remain in Iran, trying to make films according to his own vision of freedom and human rights. This is a film not to be missed! Even though it is subtitled, I believe that youth would enjoy it as much as adults.

For Reflection/Discussion

The following contains some spoilers.

1) What do you think of the plight of the girls? Do you think they should try to be defying their government by attempting to sneak into the stadium?

2) What are the reasons the soldiers give for their exclusion from the stadium? How is this a degrading view of women, one that regards them as weak or delicate? How does the absurdity of a rule or law undermine the credibility of all law?

3) It is easy for us to criticize a custom of Iranian Muslims, but what about Christian society? How long have women been included as church officers and ministers? In secular society is there equal pay for men and women? How were the writings of the apostle Paul, such as the Corinthian passage, used to “keep a woman in her place” ? How do films such as North Country show that the struggle for gender equality is still going on in our society as well?

4) How could the at times funny bathroom sequence have turned serous, even tragic? Why do you think the girl returned to her captor, when she could have walked away? Concern ofr what would happen to the soldier guarding her?

4) How does the celebration in the streets and the boy called “Boy with Firecrackers” show that not all Iranians agree with their restrictive customs and laws?

5) What do you think of Jafar Panahi’s decision to stay in his country and make films that could lead to his arrest? Another profile in courage?