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Offside | Review

Fantasy Football

Not among Panahi’s strongest works, but political comedy still ‘qualifies’ as intelligent discussion piece.

Mention the words ‘concealment’ and ‘football stadium’ and we get visions of folks armed with machine guns, German shepherds and dressed in green or tailgate party people trying to sneak in a cold 6-pack. Never do we envisage girls wanting to pass themselves off as men in order to watch a soccer match. Jafar Panahi’s Berlin Silver Bear winner of the Grand Jury Prize points to the obvious in this Middle East version of Bend it like Beckham. A couple of years after his brilliant Crimson Gold, the Iranian filmmaker once again visits with second class citizens, this time out it is not class-related but gender-related. With a docu-fictional set-up and shot during the actual day in history, Panahi takes viewers on a journey where the colors of the Iranian flag are in one part blemished and in one part rejoiced.

Particularly true for 3rd world nations – a birth in the World Cup Soccer tournament is more than just a celebratory experience as it rests deep within the psyche of its inhabitants and much like the old reel footage of the Berlin wall crumbling – a victorious event has the ability to symbolically reach millions. Using the backdrop of the pivotal historical game that brought the nation of Iran into the Cup pool, Panahi pits boys versus girls and concerns himself with theories of partisanship while specifically challenging gender discrimination. With an ensemble of non-actors, the narrative demonstrates the personal struggles of living within a society with rules that are as complex as the ones found on the football field.

This may become one of the rare film unveiling opportunities that actually merit the approval among his own nation’s censors, and that is due in part to Panahi’s screenplay sset-up. Here he utilizes a comedy strategy with amateurish-like dialogue exchanges and a no frills DV handheld aesthetic to buffer the atmosphere of the film, but in reality it is the narrative’s combo of anxiety and fear found in tiny acts of defiance that speak volumes on the infringements on basic human rights of its own citizens.

It’s the film’s ending that might receive a red card, not because it embraces the realism of the world cup win in the background but because some might want more discussion in the film’s resolve. Offside avoids exploring the major questions, but allows for interpretation which hopefully we get the ball rolling and become an example of how the medium sometimes acts as a method to voice opinions and create debate. After an appearance at Toronto, look for Sony Pictures Classics’ to release this in early 07’.

Festival du Nouveau Cinema 2006 Oct 23rd

Rating 3 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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