The Beautiful Game: Film Review

"The Beautiful Game"
Doc singing soccer's praises could use more focus if it hopes to convince non-fans.

Victor Buhler's documentary focuses in the power of soccer to change the lives of impoverished Africans.

SEATTLE — Conveying something of the enormity of soccer-obsession without quite compelling us to share the filmmakers' belief in the sport's power, Victor Buhler's The Beautiful Game will likely only resonate deeply with the already converted. The absence of singularly compelling subjects (or perhaps of the focus that would reveal them as such) makes the doc best suited for a slot on ESPN or some similar showcase.

Spreading itself thin over an 80-minute running time, the film introduces a half-dozen key subjects in addition to side-interviewees ranging from pro athletes to Kofi Annan. All testify to the power of soccer to change the lives of impoverished Africans, and to be sure we witness some of that change -- most obviously in youths whose talent and character result in scholarships to American prep schools and elite colleges; most poignantly in the case of a polio survivor who coaches teams of physically disabled players.

We also spend some time with one aspiring pro, whose family has sacrificed greatly in hopes that he will succeed and help them in return; the pressure he feels to make it is the most compelling thing in the film. But with so many subjects and so little time, one suspects these stories would carry more weight if they were told one after the other instead of cross-edited; some could be omitted entirely without losing much.

Photography and musical selections are strong throughout, and here and there the film makes interesting observations about the sport's ability to unify warring factions. But it's hard to be too starry-eyed in the face of the continent's history. As musician Femi Kuti notes, soccer talent (routinely siphoned off to Europe and America) is just one more form of African wealth that local governments are failing to retain for their own citizens' benefit.

Venue: Seattle International Film Festival
Production Company: A10 Enterprises
Director: Victor Buhler
Producer: Julian Cautherley, Tom Mickel, Jason Mercer
Director of photography: Nic Hofmeyr
Music: Will i Am
Editor: Joel Plotch
No rating, 82 minutes.

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