Believe me when I say I am not a sports fan of any sort, but after only a few minutes of the movie, I really felt for these girls. It's a ridiculous rule by western eyes, and a basic lack of freedom that just surprises us. But really, it's not just the subject that creates interest in Offside, it's the brilliant way it's delivered that really captivates.
Offside uses a documentary style of cinematography. It's a bit confusing at first because you wonder if you really are watching a documentary. After a while, you become immersed in the girls' world, and realize that the documentary style is really the best way to tell this story. Because of this style of storytelling, there are no main characters, per se, and everyone seems to get an equal spotlight. Director Jafar Panahi explained that he uses unknown actors so that the audience doesn't have a preconceived impression of them as they watch the movie. Although I wouldn't recognize an Iranian actor either way, I think the choice works, and I felt as if I was getting to know "real" people.
Style means nothing if it does not support a good story. Really, the story is simple: a girl tries to sneak into a soccer match disguised as a boy. She is detained by soldiers, and joins other girls who were caught as well. They spend the entire duration of the game in a holding pen. A myriad of factors keep things interesting throughout their ordeal. During this time, the girls talk about all sorts of things with each other and the soldiers. There's a lot of discussion about the fairness of the rule to ban women from the game, but surprisingly there's a lot of humor. The girls play off the serious nature of the soldiers and at times, heckle them and taunt them. But both the girls and the soldiers also show great sincerity and honesty with each other. Through their short shared experience, they slowly wear away at even the most stubborn of the soldiers. The best part of the movie to me is at the end where the girls are being transported in a van to the station. During the trip, the soldier struggles to fix the van's broken antennae so the girls can hear the conclusion of the game they struggled so hard to see in person. The gesture was heartwarming since he had stuck to his orders and stubbornly resisted their pleadings up until that point.
I recommend watching the interview with director Jafar Panahi. One of the things you'll find is that much of the film was shot on the real location of the soccer game between Iran and Bahrain in 2005. The people celebrating the victory at the end of the movie were real, as were many of the other backgrounds in the film. The director explains that if Iran had not won the soccer match, their film would have taken a much different direction. The blend of real life with the fictional story is really amazing, and I had never heard of anyone making a movie this way.
It's hard to sum up this movie because it feels much like watching a documentation of a group of real people. You're carried along with the story, but it feels like a spontaneous group of events. This is a great movie for sparking a dialogue about foreign culture, but it's hardly a stuffy, self-pitying tale about women who are barred from watching sports. If the subject matter interests you in the slightest, I believe you'll find Offside entertaining.