Permission

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Cold Sweat
"Beiraghi shoots her in small spaces, hems her in with people or objects, emphasises the claustrophobia of her situation."

In 2015, Niloufar Ardalan, star midfielder with one of Iran's top football teams and a woman with an impressive goal-scoring history, was refused permission to attend an important tournament in Malaysia when her husband declined to sign the form she needed to renew her passport. The case flagged up the way that women still have second-class status in Iran in several key areas of law, despite progress in other areas of life. Soheil Beiraghi's film is loosely based on this case and give its heroine a husband who, like Ardalan's, is a television presenter who likes to appear more reasonable in public than he's willing to be in person. But whilst Ardalan found judicial support in time for her to access a key opportunity, the journey we see here is a more difficult one - one that reflects the experience of the thousands of more ordinary Iranian women refused permission to travel each year.

Baran Kosari plays our heroine, Afrooz, initially revelling in her physicality, later seething with frustration as her muscular body is forced to sit idle. The passion that drove her on the field quickly becomes stifling, the very process of seeking legal help and public sympathy forcing her to restrain her emotions. She and husband Yaser (Amir Jadidi) are already living separately, though he owns the flat she's in and doesn't know she has a flatmate. He won't give her a divorce. As the film unfolds it becomes clear that much more than gender divides them. They seem like products of different centuries.

Whilst Yaser works to maintain the status quo by hosting a programme on traditional morality on his old media platform, Afrooz turns to new media as a means of getting her story out to the world. At first it's a heady experience. She already had some degree of fame as a footballer but now the world knows her name. The trouble is, as she quickly realises, all those people who hastened to support her cause might just as easily melt away. As a footballer, she can only remain at the top of her game for a few brief years. There's no time for protracted legal battles, no time to wait for society to change - and if she is forgotten she will become powerless, just another woman left to fade into obscurity, her talents wasted.

For a film about a footballer, this has remarkably little football in it, but joyful scenes at the start with the team echo throughout, reminding us of what has been lost. Beyond her love of the game itself and her commitment to her country's success, Afrooz's identity is at stake. She has played for 11 years and been married for just six; why is being a wife then assumed to define her? As her anger gradually shades into grief and despair, there is a sense of tremendous loss. Beiraghi shoots her in small spaces, hems her in with people or objects, emphasises the claustrophobia of her situation. Alireza Alavian creates a soundscape that subtly implies the world is shrinking around her.

A film that urges its audience to do more than just feel sad and sign a couple of petitions, Permission brims with an anger that goes beyond that of Afrooz. It's less interested in tragedy than in making demands, less in pity than in emphasising how much potential is squandered when women are treated in this way. It's full of hunger for justice.

Reviewed on: 26 Feb 2019
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Permission packshot
Afrooz has given her life to football. Now, she is about to captain Iran’s national team as they head to the final of the Asian Nations Cup in Malaysia. That’s when her estranged husband Yasser exercises his legal right and forbids her permission to leave the country.

Director: Soheil Beiraghi

Writer: Baran Kasari, Amir Jadidi, Leili Rashidi

Starring: Baran Kosari, Amir Jadidi, Leili Rashidi, Hoda Zeinolabedin, Sahar Dolatshahi, Abbas Moosavi, Maryam Sarmadi, Sogand Soleymani

Year: 2018

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: Iran

Festivals:

Glasgow 2019

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