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Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Sima Mobarak Shahi, Azari Soldier, Shayesteh Irani, M Kheyrabadi

Director: Jafar Panahi

Scheduled for release on the opening day of the 2006 World Cup, Jafar Panahi’s OFFSIDE should be dedicated to all those who will never have the opportunity to see a real-life football international played in a real-life stadium. Indeed, to all those who will never be able to see male players of any sport play a live match in any stadium full stop and to women in Iran who have been banned from football matches since the 1979 revolution.

Panahi, director of THE CIRCLE and THE WHITE BALLOON says that in Iran, as in many countries, football is very important. ‘As you can imagine, the majority of distractions are rather limited. So football is both sport and entertainment. It’s an opportunity for people to shout, let themselves go, expel all pent-up energy within them.’ Women are free to watch the game in the privacy of their own homes, but forbidden to attend stadium games – where the cursing and cussing of the all-male audience would corrupt their sensitive ears.

The film focuses on five women who risk arrest to attend Iran’s World Cup qualifying match. These five are the unlucky ones who get picked out before the match has even started and endure the torment of having to listen to the game without being able to see what is going on in a guarded pen outside the stadium. The women range from timid to tomboy – just like women all over the world outside the Islamic Republic. One woman taunts her guards, another has stolen an officer’s uniform to disguise herself, but makes the mistake of sitting in the wrong chair in the VIP enclosure. The absurdity of the situation is exemplified in the act of a guard having to customise a cardboard cut-out of a player’s poster, by punching out the eyes, into a mask for his prisoner, in order that she can use the gents toilets without offending men on the way.

Naturally acted, and finely directed OFFSIDE well deserves the Silver Bear it picked up at Berlin this year. Though banned in Iran, this sensitive, funny almost documentary like film is well worth taking a break from the football for.

5 out of 6 stars