Movies: Soccer and Sexism

In Iran, women are not allowed to attend soccer games. This rule is supposed to protect them from the bad language and crude behavior of men. But many soccer-loving girls try to get around this by disguising themselves as boys and sneaking into the stadium. In "Offside," the acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Pahani—whose powerful film "The Circle" examined the plight of women in a sexist, repressive country—shows us what happens when a group of savvy Tehran girls tries to sneak into the World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Bahrain.

This buoyant but barbed comedy, which opens in the U.S. today, uses nonprofessional actors and was shot while the actual soccer match was unfolding. (Like the girls, Pahani had to use subterfuge to make the movie, lying to the authorities about its subject.) These spirited girls aren't overtly political: they just love the sport, and the young soldiers who round them up and guard them in a makeshift pen inside the stadium are equally ardent soccer fans who'd rather be watching the game than enforcing the antiquated rules. As the political rhetoric between Washington and Tehran becomes dangerously overheated, "Offside" offers an intimate antidote: an affectionate glimpse into the cultural schisms that young Tehranis face every day. Western audiences will cheer the rebellious girls on. Iranian audiences, however, are out of luck. Like all of Pahani’s films, "Offside" has been banned in its homeland.