Written and directed by Jafar Panahi

Written by Mr. Panahi and Shadmehr Rastin

With Sima Mobarak Shahi, Safar Samandar



There's a fascinating portrait of Iranian attitudes toward women in Jafar Panahi's film "Offside." In Iran, ever since the revolution against the Shah, women have been taken out of a contemporary society and placed back in what we would call a medieval position. They're not allowed to mingle with men, they can't - and this is what the film is about - they can't attend men's soccer matches, in this case the World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Bahrain that would determine who went to the World Cup last year in Germany. An interesting sidelight is that there are women's soccer teams in Iran, but men are not permitted to watch them. Even the male coach of a women's team must communicate with them by cellphone.

But at that very crucial game, a number of women dressed as men did try to enter the stadium, and the film is about six women who were intercepted before they could get in and placed in a kind of makeshift detention center just outside the upper-level stands. Much of the film was shot with a hidden camera during the game, but the rest was created by Mr. Panahi and his cast. The women try every possible rationale on the soldiers, who try to explain the law but in any case are not happy to be guarding women and wish only to get away, either to watch the game or to go home on leave. They're more afraid of their chief than they are of the law they're trying to enforce.

And then - a marvelous moment - one girl says she needs to go to the bathroom, and of course there are no women's rest-rooms in the stadium. The jailers are panicked, and we see the absurdity of this situation and the contradictions of the national policy. "Offside" is a wonderfully offbeat insight into a newly religious culture imposed on a formerly liberal one, but one which cannot put out the fires of liberalism.

Mr. Panahi, who's been known for both his more conventional films ("The White Balloon") and his later, deeper ones ("The Circle") has made a lovely, witty expose of the contradictions in contemporary Iranian society.