In our Four Films series we pick a theme and examine four different kinds of films on that theme. This week, football – stories that about the “beautiful game” and lives it impacts.
Football, and sport in general, is often maligned as a genre when depicted on film. Though the motion pictures may not be able to replicate the spontaneous, in-the-moment excitement created in soccer, they can use the sport as a platform to tell stories of human triumph and even explore socio-political themes.
When we think of football, we think of Hong Kong… right? Perhaps not. But it is true that one of the most notable football films in the last twenty years is the downright silly but utterly hilarious Shaolin Soccer. Directed and starring legendary funnyman Stephen Chow, this martial arts comedy film tells the story of a group of former Shaolin monks who form an oddball soccer team to compete in an amateur football competition. To call what they play “football” may be misrepresenting it, however, with their gravity-defying skills and unique abilities, they turn the sport into something completely unrecognisable to the modern game. Not that it really matters though. Nobody will go into this expecting a good representation of the sport, but what you do get is marvellously great fun.
Bend It Like Beckham
Perhaps the most renowned football film to date is Bend It Like Beckham from director Gurinder Chadha and starring up-and-coming stars, Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley. This British comedy follows 18-year-old Jesminder (Nagra), a girl of Indian heritage, who joins an all-female soccer team whilst trying to conceal her new hobby from her strict traditionalist parents. Despite tackling themes of racism, cultural divides and gender stereotypes, albeit with a soft touch, Bend It Like Beckham is as light and easy to consume as the most lightest of sponge cakes – and I mean that to its credit. Though hard-nosed football fans may take a cynical stance, this is a delightful and genuinely great feel-good movie that is deserving of its popularity.
From Jafar Panahi, the Iranian director of The Mirror, comes this remarkable film that examines its country’s gender politics. In Iran, females are forbidden from entering soccer stadiums, claiming that they are an easy target of both verbal and physical abuse, but this doesn’t prevent the women in Offside from attempting to sneak their way into a World Cup qualifying match. Inevitably, they are caught and held in a pen just outside the grounds, where most of the action takes place. There are many things to admire about this comedic sports drama, but it is the depiction of the male guards who detain the women that fascinates me the most. It would’ve been easy to portray them as ignorant pigs, but here they are shown to be understanding and even sympathetic of the women; forced to be a puppet in their corrupt system, and not because they think it’s morally right.
Next Goal Wins
In 2001, American Samoa achieved something unprecedented. They lost 31-0 to Australia. It was recorded as the worst loss in the history of international football. Next Goal Wins, from British directors Mike Brett and Steve Jamison, documents the national team’s attempt to rebuild the squad (ranked worst in the world) with the help of the Dutch coach Thomas Rongen in an attempt to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. This charming documentary takes the sport and strips away the riches, the showbiz and cynicism often associated with the Premier League, to tell an inspiring underdog story about a team trying to achieve the near-impossible. Whether you like football or not, this will leave you cheering from your seat.