Short Takes 

This week in local theaters

This week in local theaters.

OFFSIDE Jafar Panahi is a paradoxical populist. He makes crowd-pleasing art movies and is a virtuoso director of (non) actors. But the most widely seen of Iranian filmmakers is also the most frequently banned. Panahi specializes in tumultuous activity in tight spaces: Offside opens on one packed minibus and ends on another. The first hurtles toward Tehran’s Azadi Stadium, where Iran is to play a World Cup match against Bahrain; the second, a police van, swerves through streets clogged with chanting hordes in the game’s aftermath. Iranian women are not permitted to attend sports events and, before the soccer match begins, another game is afoot. “They’re pros, they know how to get in,” one boy tells his buddy of the women dressed in drag on a passing bus. The lone girl on their bus is, however, an obvious novice. After paying an inflated price for a scalped ticket, she’s approached by a guard, instinctively flinches, and winds up in a holding pen on the stadium’s upper level, along with a half-dozen other girls who are not only more street-smart than their guards but more soccer-smart. Part sports-inspirational, part women’s prison film, Offside confounds expectations regarding genre as well as gender. The battle of the sexes is ultimately subsumed in nationalism and the penitentiary walls cannot hold. The lengthy crowd scenes that end this dodgy, dexterous performance intimate a universal liberation. In Persian with English subtitles. —J. Hoberman (Opens Friday at Green Hills)

RED ROAD Like all voyeurs, Jackie (Kate Dickie) lacks a life to call her own outside of her job manning a police closed-circuit television camera in Glasgow’s dead-end inner city, where she lives through the small dramas that unfold on her screens. Like her protagonist, writer-director Andrea Arnold plays the source of Jackie’s own grief close to her chest, focusing on her growing obsession with a shifty-looking man (Tony Curran) whom she tracks through his sordid days and nights in a graffiti-scarred housing project. No one does poetic British miserabilism with more remorseless hyper-realism than the Scots, and Arnold, who amassed a raft of reputable awards for her 2003 short film “Wasp,” directs with a precociously sure touch and a raw taste for graphic sexuality rare in a woman helmer. As cat stalks mouse and vice versa, it becomes less and less clear whose heart is in greater need of softening. If the movie is marred by pat uplift at the end, it’s worth bearing in mind that this is not just a feature debut but the first in a Lars von Trier-inspired Dogme trilogy in which three directors embellish on the same cast of pre-assigned characters. The measure of Red Road is that it leaves us hungry for what comes next. —Ella Taylor (Opens Friday at the Belcourt)

WAITRESS Impossible though it is to watch Adrienne Shelly’s posthumously released comedy without thinking of the actress-writer-director’s gruesome murder last November (the indie stalwart was killed by a construction worker in her New York office), it’s unclear what kind of notices Waitress would have received had she not died such an appalling death. In the long run, Shelly will probably be remembered more as Hal Hartley’s beautiful muse in Trust and The Unbelievable Truth than as the filmmaker who, while pregnant with her daughter, dreamed up this amiable confection about maternal ambivalence and female liberation. Shelly has the kind of seraphic face—part baby, part siren—that you can’t imagine turning 40. Yet here she is, unselfishly sidelined along with a game Cheryl Hines, as a dim-bulb waitress sidekick to the main attraction: Keri Russell as a reluctantly pregnant pie-maker wavering between an abusive husband (a very good Jeremy Sisto) and her married gynecologist (Nathan Fillion) while taking sage counsel from a grumpy old geezer with soft innards, played by none other than Andy Griffith. Washed in a honeyed 1950s glow, Waitress has a mildly puckish way with outlandish baked goods and pert dialogue, but the movie is memorable largely for the contrast between its innocent sweetness and the savagery of its maker’s premature death. —Ella Taylor (Opens Friday at Green Hills)

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