Offside reminds me when a friend of mine who visited Saudi Arabia disguised herself as a boy so that she could play tennis. She called herself Muhammad because there is a Muhammad in her name somewhere. Yes, Muslim girls get away with stuff all the time. Restriction always leads to rebellion. This film shows the apartheid between men and women in Iran, but it’s just as much about the joy these girls have in almost having something inches away from their fingertips.
ph. SPC via thecia.com.au
Offside begins with a father looking within crowds watching a qualifying futbol game between Iran and Bahrain in 2006. He doesn’t notice the girls in disguise. This film is translatable to any other about a city, depicted by a film packed with many themes. The frustration of not seeing balanced with the game’s energy emanating through the stadium walls and bars. Soldiers from the country who are outsiders like the women they’re guarding in a makeshift prison. Independent Tehrani girls who come from respectable families, can go to the movies, can go to college and want to cheer for their country that oppresses them even if it means a criminal record.
This is the definition of gonzo, new generation neo-realist film making, having to make it in real-time, a movie about breaking the law while actually breaking the law. And yet there’s time for shot countershots and great amateur actors playing off each other so well. You can’t help but sympathize for all the characters, even the cute, grouchy soldier.
Mina (Mina Mohammed-Khani), a little Persian girl with a broken arm, isn’t one of the school girls running across the pedestrians, on their way home. She’s left alone, waiting for her pregnant mother in front of her school gate. The Mirror doesn’t tell us how long she’s been waiting, the child’s anxiety of being left alone in a city warps her and the audience’s understanding of time. She clings on to an unknown woman’s black burqa to cross a street without stop lights. She tries to use a payphone and succeeds by having to climb the phone booth’s sides. This is just the first of her challenges, and when she goes out further into the city to go back home, the film proves how inhospitable Tehran could be especially to a second class citizen like her.
Then, while riding a bus, a man off-screen tells Mina to stop looking at the camera, making Mina react and yell that she doesn’t wanna act anymore, leaves the set, and crosses through Tehran to go home. She eventually runs into an old woman who was an extra in the film, telling the latter that she didn’t like her character, that she doesn’t like the crying because her classmates might think she’s too whiny. She doesn’t like the arm cast making her look clumsy. She doesn’t want being cast as a first grader. The camera then follows her as she asks for directions home, while trucks occasionally blocking our view of her.
In a way, Mina’s escape from the film set is her disavowal of limiting third world stereotypes. Her critiques of the crying, the arm cast and her youth are symbols of a supposedly debilitated Iran. It’s like Margo Channing fighting with Lloyd Richards. Of course, I still think this is all planned out, remembering that I did hear the director’s off-camera voice as the first break from the original storyline. The rest of the film can thus be seen as a set of disavowals and unintentional acknowledgments. The camera following her, latently to make sure she’s safely home, feels like a safety net to acknowledge that a person might not really be safe. Mina’s no longer acting but she’s performing independence. You can hear her voice through the mike attached to her body, but she might be far away, She no longer wants to be an actress, but she’s nonetheless a part of Iranian cinema.
- Iranian film maker goes on trial, rejects charges (omg.yahoo.com)