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USA: Sony Pictures Classics
UK: Artificial Eye
Cast: Sima Mobarak Shahi, Azari Soldier, Shayesteh Irani, M Kheyrabadi, Ida Sadeghi, Golnaz Farmani, Mahnaz Zabihi, Nazanin Sedighzadeh, M Kheymeh Kabood, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Reza Farhadi, M R Gharadaghi
Director: Jafar Panahi
Language: Farsi (English subtitles)
UK: 88 mins
USA Rated: PG for language throughout, and some thematic elements
UK Certificate: PG contains mild language
UK Release Date: 9 June 2006
Who is that strange boy sitting quietly in the corner of a bus full of screaming fans going to the football match? In fact this shy boy is a girl in disguise. She is not alone, women also love football in Iran.
Before the game begins, she is arrested at the check point and put into a holding pen just by the stadium with a band of other women all dressed up as men. They will be handed over to the vice squad after the match.
But before this, they will be tortured by the fact that they must endure every cheer, every shout of a game they cannot see. Worse yet, they must listen to the play-by-play account of a soldier who knows nothing about football. Yet these young girls just won't give up. They use every trick in the book to see the match.
The life of women in Iran was already the oblique theme of acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi's earlier film success THE WHITE BALLOON and the direct theme of the much discussed, multiple award-winning drama THE CIRCLE. OFFSIDE, Jafar Panahi's Silver Bear Winner (shared with EN SOAP by Pernille Fischer Christensen) at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival depicts an incident during the 2005 World Cup qualification match between Iran and Bahrain at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran. A girl disguised as a boy tries to gain entry to the stadium where the match is due to kick off. But women are not allowed there. The girl is discovered. She is held for the duration of the match along with some street-smart female fans. They are detained in an area where they can only hear the match. As they argue with the na´ve soldiers who are their reluctant gaolers, the absurdity of the law is gradually revealed.
OFFSIDE is a hilarious, comic and hugely entertaining film, cleverly illustrating the fight for women's rights in Iran. The director chose to use a non-professional cast to illustrate a real event, arguing that professional actors would have introduced a notion of falseness. As the stakes increase, the film veers away from tension by showing the sheer absurdity of the situation.
OFFSIDE highlights Iran's strict segregation policies but deftly reveals the rebellion amongst young women, unwilling to bow to the strictures. OFFSIDE has not yet been cleared for release in Iran.
"Eight years ago Iran beat Australia and qualified for the World Cup. When the players returned triumphant, women were granted the right to celebrate the players' return. 5,000 women turned up and went inside the stadium and this spurred a lot of debate as to why women are forbidden from entering in the first place. Four years ago, I was living near the stadium where our football team trains. Our daughter wanted to go with me to the match. We set out as an entire family so if my daughter was refused entry, my wife could take her home. As I expected she was refused entry and I told her to go home. However, she found another way of getting into the stalls and to my surprise, she joined me. This inspired my thoughts about the film. When I realized Iran once again had a chance at being selected for the World Cup, I decided the time was right to do this film".
"My films have not yet been released in Iran. I have no other choice but to remain optimistic. I think that if the film is shown, it will re-ignite discussions about letting women into the stadiums. With the World Cup approaching, the timing is fabulous. Perhaps that's just a dream, but I continue to hope...." - Jafar Panahi