She shoots, she scores

The Squad

Source: Be For Films

‘The Squad’

Dir. Stéphanie Gillard. France. 2020. 87mins

Candid, timely, funny and pulsing with energy: this documentary about the Olympique Lyonnais women’s football team is the complete package. Comprised of the pick of players from around the globe, Olympique Lyonnais is one of the world’s best sides. The film offers a close-up view of the everyday lives of exceptional sportswomen; and through them explores the discrimination against women’s sport which is still rife. Gillard’s enjoyable film navigates numerous jostling characters and captures the unique dynamic which powers the team.

“We had to be seen because we couldn’t be heard,” is the pointed message stencilled onto one pair of football boots

The Squad works on multiple levels. It’s a sports documentary which is compelling enough to land even with an audience which has little interest in football. It’s a fierce feminist treatise which never tips over into tiresome polemicising. For the next generation of footballers, both female and male, it could be a catalyst and an inspiration. Undoubtedly stirring as a potential festival title, the film could also play theatrically. Scheduled for release in France in September (by Rouge distribution), the film could connect with audiences in pretty much any country where football is played and where female fans and players feel marginalised.

Impressive, kinetic work from cinematographer Jean-Marc Bouzou captures both the on-pitch thrill of highly trained professional athletes at the top of their game, and the locker room dynamics and banter. Distinct personalities are carved out early on. Team captain Wendie Renard is unflappable and calm; Amel Majri is the goofy joker; Jessica Fishlock, playing her last season before retiring from the team, is wise and focused; youngster Selma Bacha is grappling with self confidence issues.

What runs throughout the film, which is pegged to the team’s attempt to recreate the success of the two previous seasons and to scoop three titles, is a sense of mentorship, of nurturing. The women are generous with their time, both to the filmmakers and to each other. Renard gently talks down Bacha, who is rattling with post-match anxiety; in another lovely scene, goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi chats to a group of schoolchildren who earnestly read out carefully written questions, then barrel around an indoor pitch with her. These players, many of whom grew up without female role models in the game, are very aware of the importance of their visibility to the next generation. “We had to be seen because we couldn’t be heard,” is the pointed message stencilled onto one pair of football boots.

What’s telling is how far the women’s game has come just in the space of a career. Professional contracts are still relatively new for female players. One woman recalls a time when they had no spare kits and had to wring out their jerseys at half time during a title game played in torrential rain. Disparities of pay are addressed. Fishlock, who played on the Welsh National Team when it didn’t even have a full-time coach, argues that the priority is not equal pay – not yet anyway – but equal status. “To not be treated with respect is far worse than not being paid the same.” And Renard recalls a time when the male team were promised VW Beetles if they won a title. The women asked for the same treatment. “We got figurines instead.”

Production company: Rouge International

International sales: Be For Films

Producers: Julie Gayet, Antoun Sehnaoui, Julien Naveau

Cinematography: Jean-Marc Bouzou

Editing: Laure Saint-Marc

Screenplay: Stéphanie Gillard

Featuring: Wendie Renard, Amandine Henry, Amel Majri, Jessica Fishlock, Sarah Bouhaddi, Eugénie Le Sommer, Selma Bacha, Ada Hegerberg, Saki Kumagai, Danielle Roux