July 12, 2014: Offside (2006)


Cast and Crew: Jafar Panahi (Director)

What It’s About: Teen girls disguise themselves as boys to sneak into the men-only soccer stadium in Tehran.  When security forces detect the ruse, the girls end up in a holding pen being guarded by young conscripted soldiers.  No one gets to watch much soccer as the Iranian national team plays its way into the World Cup, but they do challenge one another’s assumptions.

Why Watch it Today?: Continue to celebrate World Cup Week with a movie that’s actually about World Cup (qualifying) soccer.  It’s also one of the more acclaimed sport-related films of the last decade, winning awards in a number of countries.  And for good reason: for many people in the first decade of this millenium, Iran was a nation not to be understood but feared.  Director Jafar Panahi uses the world’s favorite sport to show regular young Iranians struggling within their society and its norms.

Persepolis (2007), a French-made animated film about coming of age in Iran, has received even more accolades (including an Oscar for Best Animated Feature), but Offside is not only more contemporary and more real, but more Iranian.  Persepolis is based on a graphic novel written by Marjane Satrapi, an expatriate member of the Iranian elite, whose ancestors were among the rulers of Persia before the Shah.  Her interests, and her objections to the Islamic Republic, are cosmopolitan and elite and instantly relatable for many Europeans and Americans.

In Offside, on the other hand, we see a range of everyday Iranians, some of whom agree or disagree with portions of the regime’s policies, but understand other aspects as simply the way things are or should be.  They are proud to be citizens (and soccer fans) of Iran *today*, not an idealized former Iran.  As such, these are the people we should really be thinking about if we want to understand and come to grips with Iran.  This movie isn’t the first time that sport has been employed as a powerful gesture of international mutual understanding, but it’s a worthy example of that noble idea, populated by interesting and fun young people.

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