A surprisingly enjoyable ethno-romp, The Great Match is both a celebration of the global reach of football mania and a sly send-up of worthy anthropological epics like Himalaya. The three interleaved stories – about tribal soccer fans in remote parts of the globe who are desperate to see the 2002 World Cup final – will remind some of Khyentse Norbu’s The Cup, but this is both a lighter and a funnier knockabout, with none of the weighty spiritual claims of that Nepalese fixture.
The film’s obvious theatrical slot, as a Germany 2006 World Cup curtain-raiser, is unlikely given the tight timeframe, but this feelgood bagatelle could function equally well as an alternative festive season release. It premiered as a Berlinale Special. Opening with an eagle’s-eye-view of a snow- spattered Mongolian steppe, the film initially promises the kind of lush and solemn Discovery Channel approach that director Gerardo Olivares has previously adopted in films such as the Tuareg documentary Caravana (produced by Pedro Almodovar’s El Deseo).
But as soon as the quickfire dialogue kicks in, we are forced to reassess. In its three settings – the Altai Mountains of Mongolia, Brazil’s Amazon rainforest and the Tenere Desert of Niger – The Great Match takes local tribesmen and turns them into comic actors.
The script, by Spanish travel writer and documentarist Chema Rodriguez (who directed another of this year’s Berlinale football-themed offerings, The Railroad All Stars) is local in its references but unashamedly Western in its comic techniques and timing.
Football is not only the cement that unites these three scattered tribes but the source of much of the humour – as in a scene of a Sanema Indian daubing a large number nine on another tribesman’s back in body paint, or the humourless Mongolian army lieutenant who puts a subordinate on guard duty for missing a penalty in a friendly knockabout with the local yurt-dwellers.
Shot on HD and transferred to 35mm, the film paces out its entertaining mini-sagas with some stunning photographic set pieces – especially in the Mongolian and Saharan sections. But the main impact of The Great Match is the way it works playfully to relieve the burden of political correctness.
The laughter and applause that greeted the official screening in Berlin was partly because it showed its subjects as being just like us – as compared to other Western depictions of remote tribes that stress how strange and different they are.
The Match Factory
Jose Maria Morales