year’s Cannes Film Festival was rough for Tim Roth. First Grace of Monaco was roundly booed when it opened the festival and
then FIFA’s self-funded film was even more harshly received. The timing for
what has been universally described as a “propaganda film” continues to be so awkwardly
bad, you have to wonder if a higher power is out to sabotage it. Mere days
after fourteen high-ranking FIFA officials were indicted, Frédéric Auburtin’s United Passions (trailer here) opens this Friday
in New York.
all started innocently enough. A group of European football association
presidents joined forces, in hopes of codifying standardized rules for
international matches. Much to their regret, the mean old English initially refused
to join out of elitist snobbery, or so Auburtin suggests. At least for a few
years, it was run without controversy by first president Robert Guérin and
general secretary Carl Hirschmann, but the fast and loose dealings commenced
with the election of Jules Rimet. Uruguay had pledged to spend liberally on the
inaugural World Cup, and ever so conveniently the member associations voted
an extent, United Passions (a title
that sounds like it was the ill-conceived product of a marketing brainstorming
session) throws long time FIFA president João Havelange under the bus. He is
constantly apologizing to his long suffering general secretary Sepp Blatter for
mistakes that were made and the mysterious emptiness of FIFA’s coffers, but the
film never explains what’s, why’s, or how’s. Instead, the altruistic Blatter
simply cuts a personal check to cover FIFA’s payroll.
is a certain degree of irony whenever Russia’s favorite son, Gérard Depardieu
appears in a sports film, but that is least of Passions’ problems. In fact, he is perfectly presentable as the
reportedly not so athletic Rimet. On the other hand, Sam Neill would probably
prefer to forget the baffling, vaguely South African accent he uncorks for the
Brazilian Havelange. Looking visibly embarrassed, poor Tim Roth tries to call
as little attention to himself as possible as Blatter, the unassuming crusader
against corruption. At one point, St. Sepp (who Havelange praises for “being
good at finding money”) stands accused of his predecessor’s misdeeds, but
defends himself with what must be the dullest, drabbest climatic speech in the
history of cinema. It doesn’t matter, the fix was in.
Passions commits enormous
sins of omission, but its worst oversight is the lack of dramatic development.
We see little more than vignettes illustrating “great” moments in FIFA history,
interspersed with World Cup montages and hackneyed scenes of a pick-up game in
some racially balanced third world slum designed to clumsily illustrate the
game’s unifying global significance. However, there is not a lot in terms of
character or plot for viewers to sink their teeth into. Instead, we hear
Blatter identify a problem, which he then presumably solves since we hear
nothing about it four years later.
As if the weak narrative and conspicuous
white-washing of FIFA’s corruption were not bad enough, the film displays an
outrageous bias against the English, time and again featuring British
characters making ridiculously racist statements. This simply is not a film
that deserves to be taken seriously on any level. However, it is precisely the
big screen treatment Blatter and FIFA deserve. Hopefully, they are happy with
it, since they paid for it.
Indeed, this is truly a Blatter production. It is a staggeringly arrogant, insular, and tone-deaf work that assumes the rest of the world is stupid. Compared to Passions,
See You in Montevideo and Montevideo—Taste of a Dream, the unapologetically sentimental, patriotic, and generally
pleasant Serbian films about the first Yugoslavian World Cup teams are like the
best of Rocky, Bull Durham, and Chariots of Fire all rolled together.
Not recommended, United Passions opens
this Friday (6/5) in New York, at the Cinema Village.
Labels: FIFA, Gerard Depardieu, Sam Neill, Tim Roth