OFFSIDE (Jafar Panahi). 93 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (April 6). Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Even if you're not interested in soccer or Iranian cinema, Offside still offers the pleasures of a highly unusual story and a good ground-level look at people you're not otherwise likely to encounter: female soccer fans from Tehran.
Actually, they're a lot like soccer fans the world over - much given to screaming, chanting and hot debates. Only they're not allowed to go to the games. So we follow one nervous teen as she tries to sneak in, gets busted by a soldier and shoved into a pen to await the vice squad with other like-minded young women.
They're an unruly bunch, given to argument, wheedling and escape attempts. The soldier guarding them, a conscriptee who worries about what's happening back on the farm, just doesn't get why they don't understand that a stadium is not a fit place for a woman.
This gives director Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon, 1995) lots of scope to treat the situation as a microcosm of Iran's restrictions on women. Every time he veers too close to preachy sociology, he pulls himself back with a bit of drama, comedy or simply the high energy of his cast.
Panahi gets a surprising amount of dramatic tension from his situation, producing a lively sense of immediacy by shooting documentary-style and inserting his actors into real situations.
The cast feel like amateurs despite some polished performances, notably from Shayesteh Irani as an articulate hardcase not above delivering a head butt to someone who calls her a chick.