By Amy Nicholson
By LA Weekly critics
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Anthony D'Alessandro
The vision you presented in your last film,Crimson Gold, seems radically different from the one we get to see inOffside. InCrimson Gold, there’s utter despair and a world where meaningful dialogue appears impossible. But inOffside, dialogue is possible, takes place and even transforms relationships.
Yes. It’s possible. But you know what? That was all dependent on the outcome of the soccer game. What if Iran had lost? I don’t know what would have happened. I wouldn’t have made this film. The film would have ended differently, because we were shooting at the real football game, at the stadium, at the time it was happening. There wouldn’t have been celebrations in the streets. The soldiers would have just proceeded to deliver the girls from the holding pen to the prison. It was the outcome of the match that set the tone. It was soccer that imposed the new vision on me and gave me a road map.
So, in effect, you’re saying the film’s optimism was a happy accident?
This is what I mean when I say that my films draw on reality and that I don’t add anything to reality. Just as, in The Circle, the women had to return to the police station at the end. It was out of my hands. I remember when I first conceived of The Circle and wrote my first draft, when I reached the point where they return to the police station, I felt so repulsed. I had to put the script aside for six months before I could bring myself to make it. But there was no way out, no way of escaping that ending. It wasn’t up to me. Just like, in this film, the ending isn’t really up to me. It’s up to society. This is also why I want to make one thing clear: It’s not that we intentionally paint our films black. The darkness comes from society itself.
From society? Or from chance? Because the win in a football match seems like it’s a matter of chance.
Chance can also create hope. The girls want to be a part of the world community. This first victory means something profound to all of them. The one girl says to the soldier, “So, if I’d been born in Japan, would my destiny have been entirely other?” There’s a need to assert this reality, that we’re not as different from the rest of world as we’re being made out to be. Accept us.
At the start of the film, we see confrontation between the characters and very little rapport or understanding. You have all these tight shots. But toward the end, in the minibus, once a dialogue has been established, the shots open up wider and wider. Would you talk a little about your use of space in the film frame?
The space of the stadium itself is masculine space. Then there’s the holding pen where the young women are held. Women are banned from the one and men from the other. I decided the camera had to be placed on the outside of the fence and could not enter either space. Because it can’t enter the space and move between the girls, there can’t be any dialogue amongst the girls. The camera can’t disclose their characters to the viewer in the way it would if it could enter their space.
So, the physical and social boundaries also dictate the boundaries of our camera positions. For example, I could easily have placed a camera where the soldier is standing who’s reporting the action on the soccer field. I could have shown a part of the game. But the girls can’t see that action. So, I don’t have permission to show it. I mustn’t. If you understand the tools of cinema, then there’s an inherent logic that you simply follow. Once they all enter the minibus, everyone is in a protected space together. Now we can penetrate the characters.
How do you work with nonprofessional actors?
There isn’t a formula, really — not for this film, or for any of my other films. I just figure out how to work with them based on who they are, individually. In this film, most of these girls I just let loose. I left them to their own devices. Sometimes they complained that I wasn’t working with them enough or giving them ideas. They were like, “Mr. Panahi, say something, tell us what to do.” And I’d just reply, still in broad strokes, “You’re here at the match. Just carry on as you would.” That’s how I treated them. Overall, I left it up to them.
But was there written dialogue or was everything improvised?
The dialogues were written in advance. But we’d only give them to the actors right before each scene was shot. We’d tell them, “You’re supposed to say this. Now go do whatever you want with it.” We’d tell it to them on the spot. They’d uncover their characters little by little. A few of the girls were theater and film students, so they had ideas. They wanted to work on building their characters the way they’d read that movie actors do. Then, once they were on the set, they were a little shocked by our methods and by having to adapt to our system of working. But because they trusted me, they went along and really left themselves open, and they let us work with them the way that we wanted.
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