Talk about bad timing. Apparently believing that filmgoers would flock to a historical drama depicting the evolution of FIFA from its beginnings in the early 20th century to the present day, the governing organization of the world’s most popular sport commissioned and largely financed Frederic Arburtin‘s ham-fisted film featuring an impressive cast of international stars. What they didn’t reckon on was that United Passions would be released in the immediate aftermath of the arrest of many of their top executives on corruption charges and the subsequent resignation of their newly re-elected president, Sepp Blatter.
Of course, on the other hand, you can’t buy this sort of publicity.
Not that the scandal is likely to attract audiences to this turgid, poorly executed propaganda piece that has all the excitement of a PowerPoint presentation. Detailing FIFA’s century-plus history largely through the perspective of three of its leaders — Jules Rimet (1921-1954), Joao Havelange (1974-1998) and Blatter — the film presents a whitewashed portrait of the organization that has long been known for its shady business dealings and rampant corruption.
Oh, those things are sort of hinted at in the screenplay co-written by the director and Jean-Paul Delfino, but only in the sort of subtle, wink-wink manner that leaves viewers to connect the dots. Blatter himself is portrayed as a paragon of decency by Tim Roth, who for understandable reasons mostly seems uncomfortable throughout.
Beginning with the efforts of various Europeans to wrestle the sport away from the domineering, snooty Brits (“Negroes playing football? Why not women while we’re at it, that would be amusing,” one of them sneers), the film spans the globe and the decades with breathless abandon, with endless title cards detailing the locales and years in which the choppy proceedings are set.
Gerard Depardieu plays Rimet, who organized the first World Cup competition in Uruguay in 1930 and is depicted as a visionary — actually, he’s literally described that way — who led FIFA for over three decades that included World War II and a worldwide economic collapse. The baton is eventually passed to the Brazilian Havelange (played by a heavily accented Sam Neill, in a bizarre bit of casting), who was determined to internationalize the game and improve FIFA’s dwindling finances. He later groomed his protégé and eventual successor Blatter, about whom he presciently comments, “He is apparently good at finding money.”
A sports-themed film with precious little actual sports footage — there are some archival clips of historical games, awkwardly presented with shoddy looking CGI enhancement and Zelig-like interpolations — the film mainly consists of endless scenes of suited businessmen having heated discussions in boardrooms. Providing some relief from the overall tedium are the occasional montages, accompanied by period-setting pop songs by the likes of the Who and the Talking Heads.
Even without the cloud of the recent disturbing developments, United Passions is a cringeworthy, self-aggrandizing affair that mainly benefits from its unintentional camp value.
Production: Veuviah Films, Thelma Films
Cast: Fisher Stevens, Thomas Kretschmann, Tim Roth, Sam Neill, Jemima West, Richard Gilane, Gerard Depardieu
Director: Frederic Auburtin
Screenwriters: Frederic Auburtin, Jean-Paul Delfino
Producer: Louisa Maurin
Executive producer: Tahir Maradov
Director of photography: Inti Briones
Production designer: Philippe Chiffre
Editor: Olivier Gajan
Costume designers: Anne David, Charlotte David
Composer: Jean-Pascal Beintus
Casting: Mathilde Snodgrass
Not rated, 110 min.