If you’ve heard of the film “United Passions”, you’re probably one of a fairly select few. If you’ve seen it, you’ll be part of an even smaller group. Launched at the prestigious Cannes film festival in May, it’s film with football as its central theme. Well, more or less. Actually, in fairness, a lot less.
The film was commissioned by Fifa, with an apparent desire to document “the story of Fifa’s foundation and subsequent globalization of football” detailing the organisation’s birth and progress up until the present day. Outside of a little self-aggrandisement, it’s not easy to see what the target of the enterprise was. Safe to say, ‘Birth of a Nation’ it is not.
I guess if the head honchos at Sion wanted to produce a bit of a presentation to deploy in front of potential sponsors, something of a step up from Powerpoint there’s some logic involved, but United Passions goes way past that sort of plan. With such luminaries as Tim Roth, Gerard Depardieu and Sam Neill portraying the various bigwigs at Fifa across the years, it’s hardly surprising that the worthy sum of £17million was lavished on the self-promotion vehicle. Ironically, or perhaps sadly, £17million is precisely the same amount that Fifa committed to its ‘Goal’ programme designed to fund football projects in disadvantaged countries across the world. One is left to wonder whether anyone within the hallowed corridors recognised the shameful significance inherent.
The film runs for 105 minutes; was it planned to be the timespan of a game including the half-time break, one wonders? Disproportionate to its length however, the quality of content is apparently less than gripping. To be fair, it’s probably difficult to create a rollercoaster of thrills with a series of cliff-hangers in a story about arranging football tournaments, but if it was, this clearly misses the mark.
Picking up with Depardieu’s presentation of Jules Rimet, the film manages to spend an abundance of time dealing with the machinations of organising the first World Cup tournament in 1930, but still finds only a passage of just under 20 seconds to feature a bit of football itself. Mind you, what’s football compared to administration and committee meeting when it comes to entertainment?
With a seemingly unending stream of controversy surrounding the organisation, if this had been a ‘warts and all’ confession, there may well have been a lot less cynicism than is currently being directed at the the film. In the words of Louise Martin, chief executive of Leuviah, the less-than-epic’s producers, “…this is not an investigative movie…” Really? You don’t say? Don’t go looking for the controversy about the dubious decisions to award World Cup tournaments to the politically incorrect Russia or the oven hot heat of Qatar, for instance. There was no discussion as to which Hollywood star would portray Mohammed bin Hammam, Jack Warner or Ricardo Teixera. No debate, as they are not even mentioned, let alone featured.
No-one will be surprised to discuss that the titanic role of the organisation’s president Sepp Blatter is also given great prominence. The Swiss autocrat will probably purr with pleasure each time he sees Roth portraying him. Whilst others cringe at the dialogue’s cronyism, Martin declared that “President Blatter was touched by and satisfied by the film.” Well, I guess that’s all right then and justifies every penny spent on it. The way he dismisses calls for investigation into fraud, bribery and slush funds is the very pillar of greatness. Having to deliver the line, as Blatter surely did, whilst sitting in a bar in Sion after being offered a job with Fifa, Roth excels when he restrains laughter whilst saying, “It can’t be be harder than selling watches.” Or receiving them either, I’ll be bound.
Pretty stirring stuff indeed, I’m sure you’ll agree, but it gets better. As our hero continues his climb up the greasy – or should that be greased – pole, we’re also treated to a scene where outgoing president Joao Havelange, played by Neill, describes Blatter as being, “good at finding money.” (Suppressed guffawing from the writer here). There is also a massive test of Roth’s thespian credentials when he strains every sinew to put real feeling into the scene where Blatter bangs on his desk imploring his staff to find more sources of income, adding “I don’t care if you call on Brezhnev, Castro or Mao.” Strangely there’s no mention of Qatar, but that must have come somewhat later.
Here’s the pay-off line though. In the film Blatter is a tough no nonsense administrator with a developed sense of ethics and brooks no dissent from his colleagues when declaring that, “the slightest breach of ethics will be severely punished.” Look, it’s only a film. It’s not true. It really is not true. I think the absence of that old disclaimer at the end, declaring that any link between the film’s content and reality is purely coincidental, was merely an oversight.
I guess however that the film will be breaking box office records across the world. Well, maybe not. Since release, it’s grossed the princely amount of some £125,000. Across the world, only seven countries to date have put it into their cinemas. Quite what the population of those unfortunate nations have done to deserve such a dubious honour is unclear. Blatter’s native Switzerland joined the happy band recently. In Portugal it grossed around £4,000, which is better than in Serbia, who only contributed less than £1,700. In France it went straight to DVD – More ‘dumped in the can, than Cannes’ it seems. It’s most popular foray into the realms of entertainment appears to be in Russia, where it has accumulated some £100,000. Well they are hosting the next World Cup, so it serves them right. Fortunately, at lease for the moment, there are no plans to release it in Britain.
It’s not all bad reviews though. Someone has described it as as “open, self-critical and highly enjoyable.” That person was however Jérôme Valcke, the Fifa secretary general in a letter to Fifa members. Perhaps a tad biased would you think? Perhaps it’s better to end with a more objective assessment, offered by PR guru Mark Borkowski who, The Guardian report as saying: “It was a glorified infomercial that was aimed, as I see it, at certain countries. It did feel like a totalitarian regime’s information film. I think for the frustrated, passionate, English football fan you have to look at Fifa’s perception outside this territory. The intention of it is probably to galvanise their brand in certain places across the world. But most football fans from this country would look at this and snigger.” It’s difficult to top that.
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