“You look like a total girl,” says one sports fan to his busmate. That’s not so out of the ordinary in this testosterone-laden world—especially on a rowdy bus like this one, headed to a soccer arena with team chants and air horns blaring. But the thing is, she actually is a girl; and while many of the men are also wearing face paint, this is modern Iran, where women are forbidden from attending games. She rides in secret, hoping to sneak in.
Offside is director Jafar Panahi’s wonderful follow-up to 2003’s Crimson Gold, another subtle comic study in frustration. (That movie’s about a Tehranian pizza guy.) Such humane, keenly observed films have long been the calling card of Iran’s cinema, celebrated in the U.S.even as the filmmakers have had their visas declined. Offside may be the ultimate Iranian film: It’s both an advance for its director, moving away from his slight political didacticism, and a perfect metaphor for a population that’s more liberated than its stone-age sexism would imply.
Our feisty heroine quickly finds herself apprehended and taken to a holding tank, where other women (yes, there are other gate-crashers) root and swear with as much gusto as the men. Police guards hardly function as figures of evil so much as rubes strapped to work details that even they find a little silly. Panahi knows where Western sensibilities lie; the beauty of his film is that it makes you want to see the rest of his country wise up. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — Joshua Rothkopf