Braving censorship, filmmaker Panahi does what he does best

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi says his movies aren’t political but focus on social problems. Yet in the interviews he gave while in Athens, he made caustic and direct comments about his country’s political reality. Panahi is one of Iran’s most well-traveled and popular filmmakers; his films have been screened and received awards abroad. He has seen his work honored at international festivals but it is still shunned in his homeland. Both «The White Balloon» and «Crimson Gold» were banned in Tehran. The same applies to his latest film, «Offside,» which received a Silver Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. His only film to be screened in Iran is «The Circle» (2000), which received the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Panahi was recently in Athens for the premiere of «Offside,» as part of the Berlinale in Athens series of screenings and events. At a briefing with the Greek press, he demonstrated daring yet balanced views and great sensitivity regarding the problems of the society in which he lives, but also concerning his films’ topics, which focus mainly on women. «Offside» will be officially released in Greek cinemas on June 1 and it is a film well worth seeing. Its dense narrative, strength, emotions and good dose of humor leave little undisclosed about current Iranian reality. The film is set at a crucial soccer game between Iran and Bahrain, which ends with Iran going through to the 2006 World Cup, but where women spectators are banned. Women’s passion for soccer borders on the criminal as, of course, the stadium is off limits to them. Those who dare to buy tickets and follow male soccer fans are usually discovered despite their careful disguises; they are «arrested» and held in custody. Based on what by western standards are unthinkable living conditions, Panahi has made a movie full of hilarious events which unfold simultaneously with the tension of the soccer match. The final victory leads to great celebrations, which may ease the inequalities and contradictions but do not altogether assuage them. Panahi comments on women’s inferior position in his country in a very effective manner. He has claimed that he does not intend to abandon his country, despite the problems he faces with censorship problems and the hardships of filmmaking.