In Tehran, girls can sit beside a boy in the cinema, but not at a football match, because the swearing and shouting might corrupt their sensibilities. As a result, they think up ingenious disguises to get to watch games.

Jafar Panahi's inspiring and charming film follows the frustrations and exhilarations of a group of girls caught trying to sneak into Iran's World Cup qualifying match with Bahrain. They are corralled into an area at the back of the stadium where they can hear the response of the crowd but cannot see the players on the pitch. Their guards are national service recruits from the country, who are more afraid of their fearsome "chief" than questioning the rationality of what they are doing.

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Verbally, the girls run rings round them, which adds to the film's acerbic humour. Although critical in intent and documentary in approach, Offside is a comedy of character, with political overtones that gently mock the hypocrisy of the government line on gender discrimination.

Panahi cleverly turns every cliché on its head. He is constantly swapping allegiances, following a father searching for his daughter, moving to a young girl with a painted face (not his daughter) and then hinting at a future friendship with a handsome boy on a coach load of footie fans, none of which he follows through in the way you expect.

Every "arrested" girl is given their moment and they are all different, energised, fascinating and (mostly) quick witted. Even the soldiers, who appear as thick as two planks and uneasy with their authority, become human, even sympathetic, by the end.

The game itself remains at the heart, emphasising yet again, as if it needs to be repeated after Germany 2006, that sport unifies and brings people together. The collective emotion at Iran's victory washes over rules of law and injustice like a tsunami. The girls' joy becomes the nation's celebration.

Despite moments of genuine fear, when one or other of the "prisoners" ponders the severity of her punishment, this is a loving and lovely film.

Reviewed on: 13 Jul 2006
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Documentary about Iran's female footie fans.
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Director: Jafar Panahi

Writer: Jafar Panahi, Shadmehr Rastin

Starring: Ida Sadeghi, Shayesteh Irani, Safar Samandar, M Kheyrabadi, Mahnaz Zabihi, Golnaz Farmani, Sima Mobarak Shahi, M R Gharadaghi, Nazanin Sedighzadeh, Reza Farhadi, M Kheymeh Kabood

Year: 2006

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Iran


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