In March, 2006, after the Iranian team’s victory in a World Cup qualifier match over Japan, seven people were trampled to death and dozens of others injured after soldiers forcibly attempted to divert the large exiting crowd from a military helicopter that had landed near the main gate and blocked it. Only six of the victims would be publicly identified in the local papers, leading to popular speculation that the seventh victim may have been a girl dressed up as a boy in order to sneak into the game, where women are traditionally banned from entering sports stadiums. This tragic incident, along with Jafar Panahi’s own personal experience with attempting to bring his own daughter to a sports stadium for a soccer match during a previous World Cup competition, provides the thoughtful, incisive, and provocative subtext to Offside, Panahi’s most lighthearted, humorous, and accessible, yet still perceptive and relevant social inquiry into the arbitrary interpretation of laws and (often outmoded) traditional customs that define the paradox of modern day Iranian culture. The introductory juxtaposition of the elderly man searching in vain for his errant granddaughter in an attempt to thwart her plans of sneaking into the stadium and averting a (perceived) communal scandal, and a group of boys on a bus offering assistance on how to escape detection to an anxious girl transparently disguised as boy in an oversized shirt, hat with overhanging ear flaps, and face painted with the national colors, illustrates the spectrum of public attitude towards the seemingly innocuous inclusion of women in such public events, and more implicitly, sheds an uncomfortable spotlight into the pricklier context of cultural re-evaluation towards broader social equality. With the less successful (or just plain unlucky) impersonators unceremoniously rounded “offside” into a makeshift holding pen that has been set up on the elevated, outside perimeter of the stadium – and conveniently, next to a window opening so that the soldiers can continue to watch the game uninterrupted from the sidelines – where the girls will be segregated from the crowd until the arrival of a van for an escorted trip to the police station to be booked on vice charges, the ideological (if not symbolic) battle towards equal rights is brought to the figurative front lines, as the girls argue with the often accommodating, but equally bemused soldiers who are torn between sympathy and reluctant duty in an attempt to persuade their captors into setting them free from their unjust detention. Structured in the framework of a situational comedy, the film’s deceptive facileness proves to be its most irresistibly potent weapon in a brewing (and perhaps, inevitable) ideological revolution, upending the laws of inequitable social convention into a rote reflection of its own incomprehensible – and untenable – contemporary absurdity.
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