Once, Judge Kristin Munson snuck into the men's bathroom disguised as a girl, but nobody noticed. She should probably be offended.
"What's it about soccer that makes you act like this? It's not a matter of life and death."
Why do people pay hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars to see sports in person? It's noisy, crowded, hard to see, and there are no commercials for when you have to pee, so why are the parks and stadiums always packed? Because the things that make it unpleasant are also the things that make it great. People crush together for the thrill and the camaraderie of other fans and the joy of seeing their team play, and that's the same the world over.
Women might be banned from entering the stadiums in Iran but that doesn't mean they don't try. Iran is playing Bahrain for a chance at the World Cup and a little thing like the law isn't going to keep female soccer fans from cheering on their team. So they pull on some trousers, put up their hair, and try to get past the gates disguised as boys. The girls that don't make it have to stay in a makeshift jail just beyond the bleachers, trapped in limbo while the men inside and the women outside are all watching the big game.
The packaging casts Offside as lighthearted Bend It Like Beckham romp but the reality is that it's a laid-back comedy that unfolds in real time over the course of a soccer match. Much of the humor comes from the overall absurdity of the situation: the main reason women are not allowed to watch sports with men is because of the swearing, so when a girl is taken to the men's room she's forbidden to read what's written on the walls.
With only 90 minutes to work with, there's not much room to get into characters beyond the basic labels of the new kid, the crybaby, the tough girl, the over-his-head soldier and his slightly dim sidekick. Only one or two have names and a few could (and probably should) have been cut out completely. Every character is played by a first-time actor and not all of them have the chops to flesh out the person they're playing beyond what's on the page.
There's also not much room for plot within the real-time frame. The story is a series of conversations between the girls and their jailers as they wait for a bus to take them to the police station, punctuated by the arrival of other girls and their pleas to see the match. The dialogue is able to carry most of the movie but by halftime all the most interesting topics have been dealt with; the last third starts to drag and, because the movie is filmed around an actual game, the fiction is a slave to what happens on the field.
Offside was banned in its own country, presumably because it shows people unhappy with the status quo and questioning the wisdom of the lawmakers. Not only are girls turning transvestite for the sake of a soccer match but boys and men, some total strangers, are helping them get in. It seems the only people who want women banned from sporting events, at least in the movie, are the ones who created the ban. Even the soldiers guarding them are written as sympathetic, and only secure the girls to keep from getting in trouble themselves.
Even though it's shot on video, the picture quality for Offside is very good and in the few scenes that use it, the Dolby Digital 5.1 is spectacular. When the camera finally enters the stadium you feel like you're a part of the crowd but otherwise the DVD could have gone with the standard 2.0 mix without losing anything. The disc features an interview with the director covering everything from the shooting process, to getting around the Iranian director of cinema (a fake script was submitted to get the permits to shoot in the stadium), to film analysis. There's also a massive gallery of foreign trailers.
Fill your cast with amateurs, shoot with handheld video, film on location but set 90 percent of the action in one generic space. In the wrong hands this is a recipe for cinematic disaster (Or The Blair Witch Project, which amounts to the same thing), but Offside yields a surprisingly solid movie.
For the treatment it got in its home country, Offside should get to take a penalty kick. In North America, it's not guilty.
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• Interview with Director Jafar Panahi
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