Offside shows the underbelly of Iranian society

White heat rises from the Middle Eastern landscape as the Paramount Center hosts the Muslim Film Festival tomorrow for a 7 p.m. screening of the Iranian drama Offside. The 2007 film, a joyous yet harrowing story of a band of young women trying to sneak into the Iranian-Bahraini 2006 World Cup qualifying game, is screening for the festival in conjuction with ArtsEmerson.

Directed by Iranian Jafar Panahi, the acclaimed filmmaker who was imprisoned for 20 years by the Iranian government on trumped-up charges of conspiracy, Offside addresses women’s relationships in their land ruled by men.

Seeing women experience daily life in Iran’s capital city Tehran perhaps puts Emerson students’ first-world problems into perspective. Women are not allowed to attend Iranian sporting events because the country’s men long ago deemed the sporting arena a location unfit for women. Not out of outright spite, they say, (though any viewer will no doubt make their own judgments) but to protect the women from the obscenities screamed in the bleachers and vulgar graffiti plastered on the walls.

The only character with a name is Samandar, the soldier put in charge of watching over the half dozen women snatched up before the game’s start. Neither he nor his fellow soldiers — all of whom are serving through conscription — seem to particularly care whether or not women attend the game.

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However, all are constantly looking over their shoulder for the moment when the dreaded “Chief” will come to cart the women away and assess the soldiers’ conduct.

The women are portrayed in a way that feels organic, not because of their expository back stories (which are few and far between), but due to the naturalistic grace they convey in their actions and reactions. They suppress their indignity towards their soldiers holding them prisoner only when they feel that it will harm one of them or one of the soldiers, with whom they develop an initially counterintuitive, but ultimately strong, bond.

The omnipresent political climate provides all the stakes and tension one could ask for in a thriller, and the buzz of the 100,000 passionate fans never dies down. The stadium (whose field is never seen, further establishing the importance of events happening in the periphery) is a synecdoche for the country as a whole, a barren locale where women are repressed by the men in power.

Despite all the heartache experienced by Iranian women that is so subtlely and impressively presented, this is an ultimately empowering film. To Panahi, the people are bigger than their overseers, and the patriotic camaraderie felt between men and women across all social lines by the film’s end give the story a silver lining. It is a fascinating portait of modern Iran, made all the more complex when one considers that the director was imprisoned for telling stories like this.

 

Offside screens tomorrow at 7 p.m. in the Bright Family Screening Room. $5