Offside (2006, Jafar Panahi)

It’s nearly halfway through 2007, and all the “new” movies I see have 2006 dates on them. Even Knocked Up is ’06 according to IMDB. Film distribution is a funny thing.

I don’t think anyone liked this except for me and maybe Jimmy. Disappointing, since I thought it was light and brilliant. Simple story, handheld camera, starts with a girl who totally fails to get into the soccer arena and gets led up the long steps to a holding area outside, high in the stadium, and left with some other nabbed girls.

One girl ditches her escort on a bathroom run, one was with her friend whose father shows up asking for help, one’s wearing a borrowed military uniform, one is all cocky talking back to the guards, and one doesn’t even like soccer but came in memory of a friend who got killed at a game the year before. Closing credits reveal that the characters were all unnamed.

Shot at the stadium itself, some shot during the actual game at which the story takes place, so mixing documentary and fictional footage in a Kiarostami / Makhmahlbaf style. These three guys are more interesting than the Mexican trinity of Cuaron / del Toro / Inarritu who the press likes to write about… but I suppose Through the Olive Trees didn’t make Hellboy bank and Offside isn’t in a tenth as many theaters as Children of Men, so why pay attention?

Movie addresses its political concerns without ever getting heavyhanded, without giving this doomed sense, without letting the girls get beaten or mistreated, so it stays watchable, with a mostly comic tone throughout. Ends in a big burst of nationalistic joy, as Iran wins the game while the cops are driving the girls away and their van gets swarmed by a celebrating mob so everyone gets out among celebration and fireworks.

Like all of Panahi’s films, this one was banned from Iranian theaters.