eugeugeug’s review published on Letterboxd :
MOVIE CLUB #14
The world is in crisis (as usual…?) and it seems like governments are in the midst of a dizzying competition to claim the title of most oppressive regime. Of the countless examples, the current protests in Iran (today is January 7th, 2018) are salient proof that citizens will eventually resist
being policed at every turn, especially when economic stability falls by the wayside.
While a minority group or external foe often becomes the public scapegoat of those in power, free expression is really the number one target of these regimes. Criticism, dissent, subversion are
stakes aimed at the heart of authoritarianism and will often leave it’s practitioner silenced...or dead.
Of course it’s not hard to churn out content that subscribes to the official doxa, whether that be state-sponsored or culturally mandated. In fact the illusion of personal expression and the diversion provided by status quo “art” is exactly what the power elite want. Alternative artists are tacitly
allowed to co-exist, as long as they occupy themselves with abstraction— which only helps to reinforce the irrelevant, fringe image of protest voices.
In light of this, only a handful of legendary thinkers have conjured ways to create transgressive but accessible work, under the limitations
(cultural, political, legal, economic) put in place by such regimes. The work is transcendent precisely because it is subversive AND entertaining.
Impressively using the obstructions in place to their advantage, the artist invents a richer language, that’s able to sneak past the censors and find
itself embraced by the public.
Our movie club selection, Jafar Panahi’s Offside , is a proud exemplar in this lineage. A set of cinematic ideas that grew from the filmmaker’s emergent status as an artist targeted by the state. Luckily, the fact that it was rejected from general release in Iran (his third rejection in a row) did not stop it from being a highly-bootlegged sensation that connected with regular Iranians.
The simple story of a group of girls detained while trying to see a soccer game becomes a perfect minimalist chamber piece, an entertaining indictment of patriarchal hypocrisy and a celebration of
female liberation. The story was inspired by Panahi’s own daughter, who bucked the post-’79 custom that bars women from attending games, and snuck right in.
Like his stealthy heroines, Panahi engaged in subterfuge to get things moving. Using his Assistant Director’s identity to keep his notorious reputation hidden, they sent the Cinema Directorate at the
Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (the organization responsible for approving all film production), a script for a soccer comedy about a group of boys. With that and the use of small digital cameras, production began. His team (including six non-professional female performers)
was able to avoid the authorities until the last week of the shoot. At which point, they had filmed at all of the very public locations they needed; most crucially several scenes which clearly incorporate
footage captured with his performers, during the actual soccer match the movie revolves around.
Fascinating as the backstory may be, it would be empty trivia if the surreptitious behavior didn’t result in cinematic inspiration. By never showing us the game (only glimpsing it through sound and
second-hand commentary), the viewer is put into the same marginalized position as the protagonists. From this vantage point, we can’t help but ask questions...
—what we are allowed to see vs. what’s hidden from us—in movies and in life?
—does morality require agency?
—can nationalism be anti-government?
—is the “brutality” of sports merely a gender construct?
—can minimalism and realism allow us to expand genre conventions, rather than just deconstruct them? For instance, can you make a triumphant “Sports Movie” without any scenes from a match?
Minimalism is so often in service of interiority, poetry or philosophy. In Panahi’s hands however, we find the rigors of limited locations, cheap little cameras, non-actors, creating a plot-driven, characters-in-conflict story filled with comedy and political implications, unfurling at a great pace.
Panahi’s adeptness with these restrictions, would sadly (and gloriously) become his bread and butter moving forward. Offside would be his last “official film.” In 2010 he was imprisoned by the Iranian government, who issued him with a 20-year ban from filmmaking upon his release.
Since then, he’s been tenacious enough to produce three ingloriously under-the-radar movies (This is Not a Film, Curtain, Tehran Taxi) , embracing the challenges of limitation with a boundless creativity
and an inspiring sense of humanity.
In spite of its designation as contraband, all of his post-ban work has found a way to be seen by audiences. Most famously, This is Not a Film was smuggled out of a Iran on a thumb drive hidden in a cake. A sweet gift to the world, like much of Panahi’s oeuvre.
Enjoy the show.