Dir: Gerardo Olivares. Sp-Ger.2006. 88mins.
A surprisingly enjoyable ethno-romp, The Great Match is both a celebration ofthe global reach of football mania and a sly send-up of worthy anthropologicalepics like Himalaya. The threeinterleaved stories - about tribal soccer fans in remote parts of the globe whoare desperate to see the 2002 World Cup final - will remind some of Khyentse Norbu's The Cup, but this is both a lighter anda funnier knockabout, with none of the weighty spiritual claims of that Nepalesefixture.
The film's obvioustheatrical slot, as a Germany 2006 World Cup curtain-raiser, is unlikely giventhe tight timeframe, but this feelgood bagatellecould function equally well as an alternative festive season release. Itpremiered as a Berlinale Special.
Opening with aneagle's-eye-view of a snow- spattered Mongolian steppe, the film initiallypromises the kind of lush and solemn Discovery Channel approach that directorGerardo Olivares has previously adopted in films such as the Tuareg documentary Caravana (produced by Pedro Almodovar'sEl Deseo).
But as soon as the quickfire dialogue kicks in, we are forced to reassess. Inits three settings - the Altai Mountains of Mongolia, Brazil's Amazonrainforest and the Tenere Desert of Niger - The Great Match takeslocal tribesmen and turns them into comic actors.
The script, by Spanishtravel writer and documentarist ChemaRodriguez (who directed another of this year's Berlinalefootball-themed offerings, The RailroadAll Stars) is local in its references but unashamedly Western in its comictechniques and timing.
Football is not only thecement that unites these three scattered tribes but the source of much of thehumour - as in a scene of a Sanema Indian daubing alarge number nine on another tribesman's back in body paint, or the humourless Mongolian army lieutenant who puts asubordinate on guard duty for missing a penalty in a friendly knockabout withthe local yurt-dwellers.
Shot on HD and transferredto 35mm, the film paces out its entertaining mini-sagas with some stunningphotographic set pieces - especially in the Mongolian and Saharan sections. Butthe main impact of The Great Match isthe way it works playfully to relieve the burden of political correctness.
The laughter and applausethat greeted the official screening in Berlin was partly because it showed itssubjects as being just like us - as compared to other Western depictions ofremote tribes that stress how strange and different they are.
The Match Factory
Jose Maria Morales