By Marc Glassman
Offside Jafar Panahi, director and co-script with Shadmehr Rastin. With: Sima Mobarak-Shahi (first girl), Shayesteh Irani (smoking girl), Goinaz Farmani (girl with tchador), Mahnaz Zabini (female soldier), Safar Samandar (Azerbaijan soldier in charge), Mohammad Kheirabadi(soldier from Mashad)
In world football (aka soccer) parlance, “offside” is when a player illegally located past the last defender takes possession of the ball. It’s an offense usually created by forwards who are so eager to strike for a goal that they can’t wait for the defensive line to move naturally towards the ball. Jafar Panahi’s new film takes that term as a metaphor for a gaggle of Iranian teenaged girls who try to sneak into a World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Bahrain.
Shot on location at Azadi Stadium in Tehran, Offside catches the pandemonium of a major football game. In its delirious opening sequence, boys and men rush out of packed buses, Iranian banners held high, chanting songs as they jostle each other to get into the stadium. In among the crowd are young women, disguised as boys, attempting to get in to see the football mach, which Iranian law forbids them to attend because the men may use foul language and act inappropriately.
The feisty young girls in Offside don’t see it that way. Excited, patriotic and athletic, they just want to have fun and be part of the excitement, like their brothers and fathers. Panahi’s film follows a group of them as they attempt to get into the match, are caught and end up in an improvised “holding tank,” in the outdoor corridors of the stadium. Most of this provocative comedy takes place just outside of the football match, with the girls attempting to escape, or at least view the game, while the frustrated male soldiers try to keep cool and maintain some semblance of order.
It’s a hard task, as the young women, dressed as soldiers, football players and zealous male students, harass and tease their captors mercilessly. Like the women, their jailors are a mixed group, made up of country bumpkins and decent young recruits, led by one up-tight military man, who clearly wants to rise up the ranks. The film emphasizes the humanity of all the characters as they spontaneously and often quite humorously interact with each other.
Jafar Panahi is one of the top directors in Iran, with a number of award-winning films to his credit, including the classics White Balloon and The Circle. All of his previous works have been dramas highlighting inequities in the Iranian system. Here, he switches gears, making an endearing comedy, with a surprisingly happy ending. Clearly, Offside was intended to provoke debate in Iran over the government’s treatment of women, a subject that Panahi tackled previously in The Circle. Whether honey works better than something spicier in Iran is questionable. What is true is that Jafar Panahi has made an intelligent, humanist comedy. Offside is well worth seeing.
Young Triffie Mary Walsh, director and co-script with Christian Murray and Ray Guy (based on Guy’s play) Starring: Fred Ewanuick (Ranger Hepditch), Remy Girard (Dr. Melrose), Andrea Martin (Mrs. Melrose), Colin Mochrie (O’Mara), Mary Walsh (Aunt Millie), Andy Jones (Pastor Pottie), Old Man Washburn (David Francis), Jonny Harris (Billy)
Rural Newfoundland in 1947 is the exotic place and time for Mary Walsh’s new Canadian comedy. In fact, as Young Triffie makes clear, the film’s exoticism is quite real because Newfoundland wasn’t even part of Canada back then; it was still a Crown Colony of the British Empire. Although Walsh’s film never explicitly tackles the question of Newfoundland troubled entrance into Confederation a year later, it isn’t hard to imagine that this Quebecois/Newfoundland production has its roots in both provinces’ profound distrust of Central Canada.
Is this too much to assume, considering that Young Triffie is apparently a slapstick black comedy centering on an investigation into the murder of a young woman? Perhaps, but given that this is Walsh’s first foray as a director into feature filmmaking and the original play, Young Triffie’s been Made Away With, was commissioned by the famed comic actress, it may not be too much of a stretch.
How else can one explain the character of Ranger Hepditch, played by Corner Gas’ Fred Ewanuick as a bumbling Canadian version of Mr. Bean? Sent to investigate another crime, Hepditch botched inquiries alienate nearly everyone in the small outport town, from the commander of local U.S. military base (still there two years after World War has ended) to local Pastor Pottie to an outraged women’s community group. By stirring up the pot, of course, Hepditch does succeed in solving the crime—but unwittingly provokes more death and destruction.
Young Triffie features an extraordinary group of Canadian comic actors, ranging from Ewanuick and Walsh to Quebec’s Remy Girard, Ontario’s Andrea Martin and Newfoundland legend Andy Jones. Sadly, their talents are largely wasted in this laboured comedy, which shifts gears repeatedly from slapstick to drama. Walsh never establishes a tone, except in her own performance as the town’s postmistress. As the frighteningly comical Aunt Millie, you can see what Walsh is trying to achieve: a hard-hitting but funny view of life in a small town, with its pettiness, prejudices and intrigues kept intact for a modern audience to view.
Somehow, Young Triffie got away from Mary Walsh. It seems that the poor thing has been made away with, again.