An analytical comparison between Jafar Panahi’s ‘Offside’ (2006) and Cao Hamburger’s ‘The Year My Parents Went on Vacation’ (2006)
It is quite strange that two very different films can have very similar impacts after their viewing. The films Offside and The Year My Parents Went on Vacation both left me with mixed feelings, not about the films themselves, but mostly about the characters they created. Both movies give us stories that have to do with everyday people living their everyday lives. They show us what it means to live in their own particular society during that time, and they demonstrate to us the average person experiencing life from their own perspective. This is something rare in the type of cinema that most people are used to. The common audience is accustomed to being exposed to films driven by special effects, and the unoriginal hero quest seen in so many of today’s Hollywood tent-pole movies. In many of today’s films, we are accustomed to studying the story, rather than the characters in that story. Offside gives us a story that makes us care for the characters, but it also helps us transform into those characters by showing us what they see, and letting us feel what they feel such as the discrimination felt in not being treated equally to another gender. The Year My Parents Went on Vacation gives us a story of the deterioration of a family under unchangeable circumstances accompanied by the temporary loss of both parents, and the permanent loss of one.
I was extremely struck by the level of involvement and commitment both films required from their audiences. The Year My Parents Went on Vacation and Offside did not tell their story, but rather showed their story through their characters. In Offside, we are introduced to a group of young women struggling to get into a soccer game that meant more to them than the laws which restricted them from attending. These women fought for their beliefs, and they were not fooled into thinking that they are inferior to the male gender. Each women humiliated herself by dressing like a man in means of the simple pursuit that people from most other nations take for granted. It would’ve been just a soccer game to us, but through their eyes we learned the passion and the hunger that Iran had in entering into the World Cup. This passion does not exclude woman, but rather has quite a large female following as the film plainly reveals. Another unique aspect of this film is how we are not introduced to merely one protagonist, but are rather engaged with several female protagonists that, while they’re stories and experiences differ, are brought together through one common goal: seeing the soccer game. It’s an astonishing viewing-experience to say the least. Jafar Panahi brings us into the lives of these passion-driven women in means of proclaiming his belief that women should be treated equally to men. Panahi successfully convinces the audience of the reality and of the urgency of this matter through several elements in his filmmaking. Rather than quick cuts, Panahi slows down the film as to play along with reality, making it flow into real time. Achieving this with long takes, and handheld camera movements, Jafar Panahi gives Offside almost a documentary-like feel to it. This communicated perfectly to the audience that what we are experiencing is not only real, but it is also worth making a film about. It is worth getting into the flesh of these characters and dissecting their inner most anguishes mainly due to the lack of understanding we go through most of our day with. With these issues now absorbed deep into our minds, we have successfully, thanks to Panahi, become the characters in his films.
Now, in comparison to Offside, The Year My Parents Went On Vacation provides for us a surprisingly different experience, but with undoubtedly similar results. Rather than transforming to the character, we are forced to analyze him. He is a little boy living in Brazil without a family, but amongst an entire culture passionately driven through their love of soccer; yet, he has no family to share his enthusiasm and joy with as his team wins game after game. The reason I say we do not become him is because of the cinematography in this movie. The rack-focuses, the swaying camera which at times pays attention to certain objects even after he has left the room; both these factors gives us a sense that we are observing him. Not only that, but we also feel pity for him. The scene that struck me the most was when Mauro, the little boy, ran after the blue Beetle that ended up not being occupied by his parents. More sympathy was felt here than in any other scene in the film. Mauro sacrificed his soccer game to chase a blue little car for blocks upon blocks with only hope by his side that he would reunite with his parents after months and months of being apart. This was pure tragedy. His love for soccer remains consistent throughout most of the film; however, he does not seem to show as much enthusiasm and passion for the sport as he did when his father was by his side. This seems to be an overriding factor throughout the Brazil we are exposed to in The Year My Parents Went On Vacation. Brazil is not a country with an undying love for the sport of soccer. Brazil is a country with an undying love for family-shared experiences through soccer. Friends and family gather around living rooms, diners, and bars to share in their common obsession with the sport, even if the teams they’re rooting for are from different countries.
In conclusion, both Offside and The Year My Parents went on Vacation gave their viewer an experience of a lifetime, wrapped up in a matter of hours. We were taken to the countries of Brazil and Iran. We learned what it means to be a soccer fan: a little boy striving for his family, and a woman with the simple desire to be treated equally, and to just see one game of soccer.
Thank you for reading,
Omar Antonio Iturriaga
*: Greg Rickman lectures