'My Name Is Francesco Totti' ('Mi chiamo Francesco Totti'): Film Review | Rome 2020

MY NAME IS FRANCESCO TOTTI
Vision Distribution
A natural born athlete relives his glory days as destiny.

Soccer legend Francesco Totti mulls over his brilliant 24-year career as captain of the Roma team in Alex Infascelli’s engaging documentary portrait.

Only some of Italian footballer Francesco Totti’s 334 career goals (307 scored with Roma, the only team he ever played for outside the nationals) are shown in Alex Infascelli’s bio-doc My Name Is Francesco Totti (Mi chiamo Francesco Totti). Nor is there very much about the icon’s private life; there are no attempts at intimate revelations or powerful insights. But the subject is such a natural charmer and his athletic feats so reliable that the film is a relaxing watch, even for those who don’t flash the team’s yellow and red colors.

Filmed with smooth force by Alex Infascelli, a director of popular music videos and the prize-winning features Almost Blue and S Is for Stanley, this ably constructed doc has the feeling of a first-person account, and no wonder: It's based on the sportsman’s own book. So there are a lot more lights than shadows here, which suggests fans are its first target.

The Rome Film Festival was the ideal venue for the film's bow. But sadly, Totti himself could not attend the screening because of his father’s recent death from COVID-19, a loss that resounds poignantly due to the strong presence of his extended family in the film and their obvious impact on young Francesco’s formation, character and determination. His father, mother and brothers are his first and biggest supporters, along with lifelong family friends, later supplemented by his wife Ilary Blasi (a popular TV showgirl at the time of their marriage) and his own young family. One remains impressed by the number of well-wishers who constantly surround him, making his backstage solitude in the opening and closing scenes all the more anguishing.

On the eve of his retirement from soccer in 2017, AS Roma star Francesco Totti waits in the dark concrete belly of a stadium where he will soon be honored for his career and will make a farewell bow to his fans. It’s a simple frame for a simple story about a Roman boy whose talented right foot raised eyebrows while he was still kicking balls at fellow first-graders. From his birth in a big, close-knit family and early experiences as a junior player to his crowd-stunning goals and rise to become captain of Roma, Totti is presented as a clean-cut athlete loyal to his team and teammates.

One of the greatest players in a country known for its excellence in soccer, he went down in league history as Italy’s second-highest scorer of all time and led his team to victories that included the Serie A title in 2001 and the World Cup in 2006. We see and hear the crowd's frenzy at every goal and share their joy when he refuses lucrative offers from Real Madrid and Manchester United to stay with Roma. Even the unsporty viewer will come away with a warm and fuzzy feeling for this unpretentious star who makes kicking a ball into a net look so easy.

Though the personal bits are too few and far between, it seems clear that the filmmakers were given great access to their subject’s life. There’s a prophetic super-8 movie of baby Francesco at the seaside kicking a beach ball bigger than himself. His first word is (what else?) “palla” (ball). He’s a nice-looking, blue-eyed blond of 12 when talent scouts notice him playing with his friends on backlots. Though he had offers from both Roma and the rival team Lazio, family heritage made him a “Romanista” and he had no trouble choosing sides.

But there is a bit of a closed-circuit feeling that excludes the uninitiated at crucial moments of the bio. The most puzzling and frustrating scenes involve Totti’s feud with seasoned coach Luciano Spalletti. Their initially cordial relations are shown abruptly deteriorating after the player returned to the field post-injury. Suddenly Francesco finds himself being used very sparingly in games and brought out only in the closing minutes to rack up goals (which he does magnificently). The unsmiling coach makes a point of telling his star player that he has no more weight or privilege than anyone else on the team. No doubt avid fans have knowledge or educated opinions about what sparked this surprising hostility; general audiences, however, are given no clue and the whole episode is left dangling like a loose wire.

It’s one of the very few moments of conflict in a shamelessly untroubled life — besides, of course, Francesco’s existential angst at being forced by his age (he turned 40 in 2017) to exit the sport and team he loved and built his whole life around. Infascelli returns several times to this dark night of the soul, as the captain mentally rewinds his life like a film while he waits for the final salute from his fans.

A lot of pumping music and popular songs buoy up the replays on the field, the rise to stardom, a broken ankle that required eight screws and months of rehab and penalty kicks under pressure. Solid editing by Infascelli and Emanuele Svezia keeps the ball rolling.

Venue: Rome Film Festival
Production companies: The Apartment, Wildside with Capri Entertainment, Fremantle Media, Vision Distribution, Rai Cinema in association with Sky, Amazon Prime Video
Cast: Francesco Totti
Director: Alex Infascelli
Screenwriters: Alex Infascelli, Vincenzo Scuccimarra based on a book by Francesco Totti, Paolo Condo
Producers: Mario Gianani, Lorenzo Mieli, Virginia Valsecchi
Executive producers: Elena Recchia, Martina Veltroni
Director of photography: Marco Graziaplena
Production and costume designer: Eugenia F. Di Napoli
Editors: Alex Infascelli, Emanuele Svezia
World sales: Vision Distribution
105 minutes