Many have compared Cold Sweat with the 2006 feature Offside, which is perhaps the most famous soccer movie out of Iran. But to do so is a crime, even though both dramas are about women trying to exercise simple human rights that are denied to them in Iran.
Offside is almost light-hearted fiction as several women are caught sneaking into a soccer match. But Cold Sweat is gripping drama as Afrooz, the captain of Iran’s women’s Futsal Team, finds out that her husband Yaser has banned her from leaving the country to play in the Asia Cup Final.
The story – sort of
Under the deft direction of Soheil Beiraghi, the frustration of Afrooz (Baran Kosari) is palpable as she pursues every avenue possible to get her estranged husband, Yaser (Amir Jadidi), to relent. We suffer the ups and downs as Afrooz pushes through small successes and big frustrations with an activist lawyer, social media, the football Federation, and divorce court.
Afrooz even follows the counsel of the team manager, who like a mother-in-law, tells the footballer to use her feminine wiles on Yaser, to be nice to him. An evening of blueberry hookah ends with Afrooz furiously brushing her teeth, as if to eliminate all taste of the hookah or the man. Always there is a sense that Afrooz may not just be stymied by the ban, but that the obsessed Yaser could suddenly turn violent.
Based on a true story – sort of
The creators have distanced themselves from the very similar true story of the WNT futsal captain Niloufar Ardalan, whose nickname was “Lady Goal”. In 2015, Ardalan’s husband exercised the ban and prevented her from attending the 2015 Asia Cup in Malaysia, which Iran won. Two months later, he repeated the ban in order to stop her from going to the Futsal World Cup in Guatemala. The second time though, Ardalan prevailed in the court system. ESPN has an excellent 2016 short film, Lady Goal, that details the facts.
Part of the reason to downplay the film’s relationship to the actual case is that in conservative Iran, such marital squabbles are to be kept private. Further, to portray such situations as human rights issues reflects poorly on Iran. Cold Sweat was deemed inappropriate for family viewing, severely restricting the film’s domestic release. Still, the film does replicate detailed nuances in Ardalan’s case, e.g., like Ardalan’s husband, Afrooz’s husband Yaser is a television personality. One scene shows how Yaser’s hair is styled high on his head, much like his archetype.
The key difference may be the personalities of the real and fictional captains. Afrooz is portrayed as a strident, driven woman who puts herself before anyone else: team, husband, and the teammate/roommate who might also be her lover. When her case is lost, Afrooz accuses her activist lawyer of using her, and she refuses to accept any solace from paving the way for the next banned woman. It is brilliant directing and acting that we accept Afrooz as the egocentric super-competitor that she is, and yet we still commiserate with her loss and abandonment.
There isn’t much soccer in the film, but Baran Kosari and the other actresses do a good job of looking like they know how to play. Most of the futsal action is in the beginning, to show the women’s identities as the team of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We see them play fully clothed with hijabs, and they are told to be mindful that their hair is not exposed.
I was surprised to learn that Iran won the inaugural Asian Football Confederation 2015 AFC Women’s Futsal Championship in Malaysia, as well as the 2018 Championship in Thailand. The 2020 tournament was postponed due to COVID-19. It would be interesting to see how Iranian women developed such skill in futsal.
On the political side, the film teaches us that only the interests of the country can be weighed against the interests of the husband. The legal argument is only that Afrooz should be allowed to serve her country. She has no human right of serving her own self-interest to compete, and in the story, she weakened her support from the Federation because she had not told them she had lived apart from her husband for a year.
I really enjoyed Cold Sweat, but my biggest issue is with the English title. They should have gone with the alternate title Permission, because that’s what the film is really about. The situation remains the same in Iran, although women today add a travel clause into their marriage contracts to try to circumvent it.
Although directed by a man, Cold Sweat makes us feel all the anger and determination in a story where a woman’s personal struggle exposes a national problem.
8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8