With Offside, director Jafar Panahi (The Circle) once again tackles systemic inequality in his native Iran, charting the ordeal of a group of young girls who are detained after dressing like boys in an attempt to sneak into Tehran’s men-only soccer stadium for the country’s 2004 World Cup-qualifying match. Using a subtly complex verité aesthetic, Panahi beautifully reveals the discriminatory bedrock of Iranian society, though unlike his previous Crimson Gold, the filmmaker substitutes mounting tension and anxiety for lighthearted humor, revealing a surprisingly deft, gentle comedic touch that serves him well as his tale’s spunky female protagonists, determined to break out of their makeshift prison and see the game, badger their captors for release. Sequestered behind a gate, the girls reveal a resilience with which their wardens are ill-equipped to contend. Rather than a straightforward battle of the sexes, however, Offside proves a powerful depiction of rebellion, as well as a portrait of communication as a force capable of eradicating personal and cultural barriers. Assuming his heroines’ point of view throughout, Panahi offers muted tragedy tinged with heartfelt compassion, and with his touching (if overly optimistic) finale – wherein escape comes equipped with exuberant revelry and exploding firecrackers – his film also offers a stirring alternate vision of Iran in which egalitarianism is allowed to flourish without the hindrance of illogical and corrosive prejudices.
(The 44th New York Film Festival)