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Iran's Women on the Pitch: 'Offside'
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Iran's Women on the Pitch: 'Offside'

Arts & Life


From baseball, now to soccer. Last year, the island kingdom of Bahrain went up against Iran in a qualifying match for the World Cup. The match was played in a packed stadium in Tehran. And off in a secluded corner - out of sight of the crowd - was a film crew. They were making an Iranian comedy called, "Offside." Bob Mondello says the film is less about the game than about the fans, including some who were not supposed to be there.

BOB MONDELLO: If you're a woman and you want to watch a soccer game in Iran, you have to be clever. Women, theoretically for their own protection from unguarded male behavior like cursing, are barred from soccer's stadiums as a matter of law. But there are ways to get in if you're really determined. And on a bus full of rowdy fans, one boyish-looking teenager with cheeks painted red white and green — the colors of Iran's flag — seems to have found one.

(Soundbite of soccer game)

MONDELLO: Alas, at the gates, they're frisking ticket holders. And since being touched by a strange man would be worse than being found in men's clothes, she runs. And gets caught. And is taken to a holding pen high up in the stadium, where half a dozen other girls are being held. All of them are in men's clothes, and all of them seem to know more about soccer than the soldiers who are keeping them from watching it, especially the soldier who can see a corner of the field, and whose play-by-play gets almost everything wrong.

(Soundbite of soccer game)

Unidentified Man: (Persian spoken)

MONDELLO: Sometimes running afoul of his country's censors, filmmaker Jafar Panahi has made a number of sly, smart movies about life in Iran. In "Offside," he seems bemused about his society's determination to protect women's honor whether they want it protected or not. But he's not mocking anyone, including the men. The film's soldiers seem genuinely to want to treat their female charges with respect, and to wonder whether the rules they're enforcing actually do that.

There's a priceless sequence, where one of the detainees needs to use a restroom in a stadium that was built without women's restrooms. Protecting her dignity, while also protecting her supposedly delicate sensibilities from graffiti, proves quite a trick. Happily, the trip to the restroom gets her tantalizingly close to the soccer field — though neither she, nor the camera, is allowed to look at it.

(Soundbite of soccer crowd)

MONDELLO: In a movie that's all about disguises, it's perhaps appropriate that Panahi had to disguise his project to get permission to shoot at the stadium on the day of the big game. He pretended to be making a less socially pointed picture. And if you know that, and also that he was largely working with non-professionals in real-time - the film is just about as long as the game - "Offside's" effortless humor is really impressive.

When he was filming, the director didn't even know how the game would turn out. All the more gratifying then, that his movie turned out so well.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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