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Iran rules football film offside

By Amir A. Daftari for CNN

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Iranian director Jafar Panahi receives the Silver Bear award for his movie "Offside."

SPECIAL REPORT

(CNN) -- With the climax of the World Cup fast approaching, football fans across the world are gripped with mixed emotions; feelings of excitement and anticipation as well as melancholy and dejection weigh heavy on the hearts and minds of all World Cup watchers.

Excitement because after watching 32 tournament finalists gradually reduced to just two teams, the final of the world's greatest, most passionate sporting event will conclude with a brand new world champion crowned -- and the winning nation's supporters granted bragging rights for the next four years.

Dejection because fans absorbed in the tournament for the past month know they will have to wait another four years for the passion, camaraderie, and spirit that the World Cup evokes. Although there are other competitions and tournaments to look forward to over the next four years nothing quite captures the imagination like the World Cup.

But football fans looking to fill the void left by the World Cup could turn to the silver screen.

Filmmakers and movie directors have tried many times to emulate the frenzied mania and emotional upheaval of a football match. But only a few have been able to capture the essence of the beautiful game -- the fans.

"Offside" by acclaimed Iranian director Jafar Panahi brings to the screen some of the most ardent football fans in the world -- Iranian women.

Although a recent presidential decree means women accompanied by male family members are now allowed to attend live football matches, single women are still forbidden from taking part in a sport that has become an Iranian national passion. They can enjoy the action only by watching games on television or by following commentary on radio.

"Offside," follows a day in the life of a group of girls attempting to watch a football match, capturing their enthusiasm for the game and the lengths to which they go to see a match. The young Iranian women dress as boys and try to get into a World Cup qualifying game between Iran and Bahrain. When they're caught, they're penned in an area where the match remains within earshot but out of sight. The prisoners plead to be let go, but rules are rules.

What makes "Offside" so poignant is that the young women are not portrayed as activists attacking the Iranian system. They are simply football fans and patriots, and despite the fact they are being treated unfairly, they never lose their focus on the match.

The situation presented by Panahi is so ridiculous that, as the women demand to know why they can't watch the match and their captors struggle to come up with a reasonable answer, the only possible conclusion can be that their detention is almost comically absurd.

It is a mark of the pedigree of Panahi's films that they're generally banned in Iran even as they are winning prestigious awards in Europe.

"Offside" has followed a similar mould, winning the Silver Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival having been banned in its country of production, and with good reason. "Offside" is a dark comedy with an effective narrative that cunningly ridicules the regime in Tehran.

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