Foosball (Metegol): San Sebastian Review

Foosball Still - H 2013

Foosball Still - H 2013

A beautiful looking David and Goliath soccer story that comes close to meeting the Disney-Pixar challenge on the tech level, but lacks sophistication elsewhere.

A big budget, soccer-themed animated feature from Argentina's Juan Jose Campanella, who won an Academy award for “The Secret in their Eyes."

With the Toys trilogy, it was toys; with Wreck-It Ralph, it was video game characters, and now it's the turn of the little spinning soccer players of table football to rise up and make their mark on the real world. Taking its cue from such illustrious forebears, Foosball stands the comparison in terms of its visual imagination. But surprisingly for a director whose previous work is rooted in real people, neither its characters -- engaging enough but simple -- nor its A-to-B plot line hold any surprises. Foosball, a watershed in Latin American animation, has nonetheless broken Box Office records in Argentina, with healthy pre-sales suggesting that it should score worldwide with kids and parents alike --just as intended. An English-language version is in preparation.

Amadeo (in the original, voiced by Luciana Falcon and later David Masajnik) lives in a small town, presumably in Argentina but unidentified by name, perhaps so as not to frighten away the international market. The shy and insecure Amadeo can do only one thing, but he does it extremely well - he's unbeatable as a table football player. Challenged to a game in the village bar by local bully Grosso (Mariana Otero, later Diego Ramos), Amadeo wins, cheered on by his romantic interest, the feisty but uninteresting Laura (Lucia Maciel).

Several years later, the newly muscled Grosso returns: he is now the best soccer player in the world, as well as having a record-breaking ego (if Grosso is based on Cristiano Ronaldo, as has been suggested, then the portrait is hardly flattering). Grosso, together with his evil-looking agent (Coco Sily) plans to raze the town to the ground to make way for a theme park dedicated to himself, featuring the world's biggest soccer stadium. But he also wants a rematch with Amadeo for his only ever sporting defeat. As Grosso whisks the hapless Laura away to his mansion, Amadeo's tiny former "players" line up to help out the townsfolk.

One of the most memorable shots in Campanella's fine Oscar winner The Secret in their Eyes was a stunning aerial tracking shot around the inside of a soccer stadium. This shot might have been the inspiration for the 3D treatment given to the soccer games in Fussbol, which is unfailingly spectacular: not since Cars has an animated sports stadium looked so animated.

But it's the details that count and here, whether tracking the slow journey of the teardrop that falls from Amadeo's eye onto one of the mini players, reviving him, or lovingly recording the texture of the scratches in the miniature players on their return to action years later, it's all there. Several satisfyingly surreal moments are also thrown into the mix.

The faces have been designed around the eyes, which are huge and shown in slightly queasy microscopic detail, right down to the webbing of the veins in the irises. But as characters, Amadeo, Laura and the townsfolk feel flat compared to the tiny wooden footballers, who represent a range of types from the dour, decent captain, veteran Capi (Pablo Rago) to the hilariously philosophizing Loco (Horacio Fontova) - "I don't think, I'm pure feeling". Soccer parents of a certain age should enjoy figuring out which real life players have been adapted to make the film's tiny figures.

Despite representing a radical change of direction for the director, in its focus on small-town values fighting the corporate threat - in this case the grasping commercialization and general lack of fair play that now dominate soccer - the film is of a piece with the film that first made his name, Moon of Avellaneda. When the threat comes, small town values must prevail and a miracle is needed. Although the film's final showdown goes on several minutes too long, the final act here does offers a smart if slightly dissatisfying new twist on the classic outcome.
As ever with Campanella, the movie refs abound, with an opening sequence that wittily cites Kubrick's 2001, or the nods to Honey I Shrunk the Kids as bad animals become friends and the tiny players negotiate the big world in scenes calculated to keep the tweenies' eyes out on stalks.

Production: Plural-Jempsa, 100 Bares, Catmandu Entertainment, Antena 3 Films
Director: Juan Jose Campanella
Cast:David Masajnik, Lucia Maciel, Diego Ramos, Horacio Fontova, Pablo Rago, Coco Sil, Miguel Angel Rodriguez
Director: Juan Jose Campanella
Screenwriters: Campanella, Eduardo Sacheri, Gaston Gorali, based on a story by Roberto Fontanarrosa
Producers: Jorge Estrada, Juan Jose Campanella, Gaston Gorali, Manuel Polanco, Mikel Lejarza, Mercedes Gamero
Executive producers: Diego Rosner, Roberto Schroeder, Gustavo Ferrada
Director of photography: Felix Monti
Artistic directors: Nelson Luty, Mariano Epelbaum
Editor: Juan Jose Campanella
Music: Emilio Kauderer
Director of Animation: Sergio Pablos
No rating, 107 minutes