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  • Jacob Sweetman: Balls on Film


Jacob Sweetman: Balls on Film

The 11mm International Football Film Festival is taking place this weekend in berlin. It should serve as a reminder that not all films about football need to be terrible, they can be heart-rending and fascinating in equal measure.

Football has not been served especially well by the cinema and vice versa. It is in many ways surprising that an audience driven form of entertainment lasting 90 minutes shouldn’t gel with an audience driven entertainment lasting 90 minutes, but it doesn’t. The history of the big screen is littered with the corpses of films that tried to break down the barrier between the most popular sport in the world and the big screen.

There are the laughably bad “Goal” films, which are as if scripted by the eponymous writer in the infinite monkey theorem, but it only took him ten minutes to knock this one out. A poor Mexican kid, smuggled with Dad across the border to the States, plays football. Brilliantly. Dad resents it but only because he loves him. Grannies nice- she supports little Santiago, he signs for Newcastle, becomes a bad boy star, repeat ad nauseum for the rest of humanity.

This was just the first one in the “Goal” trilogy. In the second signs for Real Madrid, in the third (I haven’t watched the third) he goes to the World Cup, and, presumably he wins it. With Mexico- which must mean that the third part of the trilogy is a science fiction romp where the decapitated head of Hugo Sanchez is leading a revolution against the evil conquerors of Mexico (led by Arnold Schwarzenegger), and they can only win back control of the means of production by winning the World Cup. Or something. It’s less unrealistic than Mexico winning the thing on their own anyway.

Bend it like Beckham was harmless in the way that kittens are. But one has to avoid punching kittens because of their trite cameo roles, and don’t revolve around a deeply annoying woman with so many plums in her mouth you could put a spoon in her head and call her a pudding. Yes, Keira Knightley, that’s you.

The makers of Green Street decided that it would be a good idea to cast a hobbit as the protagonist in an east end romp through one dimensional “firms”. The makers of Escape to victory decided that it would be a good idea to cast Sylvester Stallone alongside Pelé, Ossie Ardiles, and Bobby Moore (among others). It is astonishing that there are things that Stallone could be worse at than acting, but pretending to be a goalkeeper is actually one of them. Escape to victory has now attracted a certain camp popularity, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that it is a film shat straight out of Satan’s own cinematic guts. It is redeemed by having the great John Wark getting a line, but that is about it.

However, the sport is done a great justice through the medium of documentaries. “The Two Escobars” is the only football related film from the extraordinary ESPN 30 For 30 series of films, and is a heartbreaking tale of the Colombian drug cartel’s grip over the country as told through the football team and the tragic murder of Andrés Escobar in the wake of his own goal at the 1994 World Cup.

“One night in Turin” tells the story of England’s run to the semi finals of the World Cup in 1990, complete with a look at the Thatcher governments demonisation of football fans, and the cruellest, most heartbreaking ending imaginable as Bobby Robson consoles Gazza while the former goalkeeper, Pavarotti’s, “Nessun Dorma” rises to its conclusion.

It is here where football comes into its own. It is a medium through which we can look at society in general. It is a mirror to the outside world. Football may be a game to many, but it contains a hell of a lot in there besides balls and goals.

In Berlin we can consider ourselves lucky. Or at least those of us who are interested in football films are. This weekend sees the ninth 11mm International football film festival at the Babylon Kino in Mitte. It, as it is every year, should be a brilliant showcase for stories about people, stories about stories, that happen to have football in the centre stage. This year sees Sepp Maier’s “We could be champions”- the legendary goalkeeper’s cine-film diaries, revealing the hidden, human side to the German world cup winning side in 1990. “The last proletarians of Football” is about IFK Gothenburg and their extraordinary achievements in the 1980s. “Kiezkick und Punkrock” does just that, telling the story of St. Pauli and their radical roots. “Die Todeself” is a short documentary about the Dynamo Kiev side that became engraved in legends as FC Start, and who reformed in a concentration camp and took on their masters on the field.

There are hundreds of offerings, short and long, form all around the world. The stories will be amazing and Sylvester Stallone won’t be anywhere to be seen. get yourselves down there this weekend.