It took me some time to get into Offside. At first it looks like more of a drama. It’s a little slow and a little ominous, with not a lot of dialogue, as it chronicles a young Iranian woman’s efforts to sneak into a stadium where women are not allowed, in order to see a soccer game that could send Iran to the World Cup.
Actually for the first couple minutes it even feels like it could be a documentary.
But then it became gradually more watchable, more interesting to me. It settles in to what it’s really about, which is not so much that one individual, as a half dozen or so such women who have been caught trying to sneak into the stadium and are now being held in a temporary little enclosure just out of sight of the field, watched over by young soldiers (who are closer to teenage mall cops). The style changes to that of a whimsical dramedy. There is more dialogue—which is clever and witty—and an opportunity to get to know some of the characters better. And these changes all work, all are welcome.
I wonder if maybe the set-up could have been halved and we could have reached the meat of the movie more quickly. There’s a definite Bend It Like Beckham charm to this film once it gets rolling. (Though it never gets as conventional and commercial as that soccer movie. It still feels like an obscure foreign film.)
The women range from antagonistic toward the guards to sympathetic toward them, and everything in between. The guards manifest a narrower range of attitudes toward the women, with the sympathetic stuff and the in between stuff, but really not the antagonistic stuff. Even when the one leader is somewhat scolding toward them, he’s clearly not a malevolent character, clearly not genuinely hostile toward him, but is just trying to do his job and avoid getting in trouble.
But the interaction among all of them is consistently handled well. There are funny bits, but it’s not a series of gags. The serious issues of the rights of women in a society like that are not ignored, but they never crowd out the humor, the basic warmth of the film. The movie never gets preachy or dark.
Yet it doesn’t feel frivolous. It’s well done enough that you accept the level of seriousness that it chooses for itself.
The characters gradually become more likable to each other and to the viewer, which makes it a nice ride. The feel-good “love of soccer conquers all” ending isn’t a home run, but it’s not awful either.
Offside is funny, touching, and thought-provoking. It’s none of those things sufficiently for me to rave about it, say it reached me on a deep level, or label it a “must-see.” But it’s all of those things sufficiently to make it a pleasant, worthwhile movie.
And by the way, the whole time I was watching this movie I couldn’t get out of my head the “stoning” scene from Life of Brian.