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In Iran, All Women Are Banned from Men

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi is a man who understands that you can sometimes score more political points with humour and irony than with polemics.Inspired by an incident in which his daughter was sent home when he took her to a soccer stadium, Panahi's Offside is shocking in its revelation of the legal oppression of women in Iran. This film, about girls trying to sneak into a big game between Iran and Bahrain, is also hugely funny.The eye-opener is how much the young people here resemble urban youth anywhere outside the borders of repressive and religiously run states.On the day of a big match in Tehran to determine whether Iran's team goes to the 2006 World Cup, minibuses and vans fill the streets with male fans chanting and waving arms and banners out their windows.It could be a championship day in any other soccer city in the world. An older man is desperately seeking his daughter, who told her friends she was going to the stadium, despite the law that says women cannot attend a soccer game.In a minibus that the distraught father pulls aside, one fan in a black ballcap jammed over an Iranian flag keeps her head turned away. Later, the boys tease her, saying she is going to get caught. But she gets past the stadium gates, ducking past the security guards doing body checks.She is soon nabbed by a soldier and taken to a holding pen on the upper levels of the stadium, where the sounds of the game can be heard. Soon there are six young women, one a butchy girl with a foul tongue, another cleverly dressed in an army officer's uniform. All of them are avid and knowledgeable soccer fans.Panahi shot the film – yet to be seen in an Iranian cinema – in documentary style, changing his name and concealing the plot of his film to get his crew into a real stadium. These sophisticated young Tehran women and the rural simpletons doing military service come off as true to life.All the same, Panahi's script is like a Shakespearean comedy, with razor-sharp visual and verbal ironies. When a po-faced soldier has to take one of the girls to the men's washroom, he makes a mask for her face with a poster of a soccer player's headshot, punching holes in the eyes for her to see. It's hilarious to us, but none of the guards laughs.The girls outsmart their keepers at every conversational turn."There are lots of men in there. They'll be cursing and swearing," says one of men. "We promise not to listen," a girl snaps back.It is sad to see how the mores of the Islamist regime have been internalized. A boy who the soldiers pick up for carrying firecrackers says, "Don't put me in with the chicks. It diminishes my class."Panahi brings Offside to a close with a celebration in the streets and a final irony. Everyone, prisoners and guards alike, is singing an Iranian anthem. But it is a national hymn, extolling the country and not its government.Susan Walker, Toronto Star

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Directed by: 
Jafar Panahi
Running Time: 
Persian with English subtitles
Documentary Feature; Sima Mobarka-Shahi, Shayesteh Irani, Ayda Sadeqi
Screenplay by: 
Jafar Panahi & Shadmehr Rastin

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