‘See You in Montevideo’: Palm Springs International Film Festival Review

See You in Montevideo Still - H 2014
Branimir Milovanovic

See You in Montevideo Still - H 2014

World Cup completists won’t want to miss this.

Sports melodrama memorializes long-ago Yugoslavian soccer victory in obsessive detail

It’s rare that a sequel gets submitted for foreign-language film Oscar consideration, as Serbia has done with the follow-up to its 2011 contender Montevideo: Taste of a Dream. Sentimentally inclined and indulgently drawn out, See You in Montevideo’s celebration of an obscure World Cup soccer triumph for the former Yugoslavia isn’t likely to garner much attention in an awards contest dominated by strong entries, particularly from Europe.

Even the decision to offer a sports feature with a narrative arc substantially similar to its predecessor, along with an almost identical above-the-line package, demonstrates a level of disconnect that won’t impress Academy voters — if they get around to considering the film at all. While Taste of a Dream was concerned with the recruitment and training of the Yugoslavian national soccer team that competed in the first World Cup, See You in Montevideo gets into the thick of the rivalry displayed at the 1930 championship tournament.

After a long overland train journey and a rough Atlantic crossing, the star-crossed players arrive in Uruguay’s capital of Montevideo. Despite their swollen sense of national pride, the squad and their management are crestfallen to discover there’s very little fanfare greeting the World Cup participation of their relatively obscure European team. Their manager, Andrejevic (Vojin Cetkovic), tries to rally the players after they’re unceremoniously consigned to a shabby hotel with intermittent electrical service in a sketchy district of the city, but the young men are constantly distracted by the unfamiliar South American sights, particularly some of the lovely local ladies.

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Croatian transplant Paco (Branko Duric) befriends the team’s young assistant Stanoje (Predrag Vasic) as he helps them all get settled, and once the players get out on the field, a sense of normalcy returns. Mosa (Petar Strugar), however, schemes to devise a plan to grab the attention of American soccer recruiter Hotchkins (Armand Assante), who’s made the journey to put together an all-star team for his New York club by underhandedly cherry-picking the best players from each national team. Lovelorn Tirke (Milos Bikovic) falls fast and hard for Dolores (Elena Martinez), an attractive street vendor with an aggressively protective brother, launching a risky love affair. The Yugoslavians pull together, however, when they draw a first-round match against Brazil, improbably besting one of the world’s top teams in an historic game.

Suddenly the toast of Montevideo, the players relocate to the city’s best hotel while Mosa, Tirke and several others begin negotiations with Hotchkins while preparing for their next game against Bolivia. Boosted by the momentum of their win against Brazil, the Europeans emerge triumphant again, stoking the city’s pro-Yugoslavian sentiment. The celebrating dissipates, however, when they’re matched up with Uruguay in the semifinals and suddenly face increasing hostility. Whether the team can pull together to qualify for the finals will depend as much on the quality of their play as on the waning support of their hosts.

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Based on the best-selling book by Vladimir Stankovic, the sequel is again narrated by orphaned teen Stanoje, a crippled innocent who regards his sports heroes with complete awe. A similar attitude pervades the entire film, lending the narrative and performances a tiresome degree of unmitigated reverence, deliberately crafted by writer-director Dragan Bjelogrlic and his co-scripters.

Distinctive performances are subsumed in service to the heroic narrative, though Bikovic comes across sturdily enough, except perhaps when Tirke is making puppy eyes at Dolores, interpreted with refreshing verve by Martinez. The rivalry between Tirke and Mosa seems unduly contrived, however, and predictably underplayed when the team takes to the pitch against their South American rivals. Assante makes an appropriately conniving sports manager, though his ultimate motivations remain rather murky.

Bjelogrlic and DP Goran Volarevic dynamically re-enact the historic soccer matches, effectively capturing the excitement of the first global tournament, but they revert to an overly self-conscious style during more dramatic passages. Production design by Goran Joksimovic and Nemanja Petrovic persuasively re-creates period settings and details that help sustain interest when the action slackens somewhat.

Production company: InterMediaNetwork

Cast: Milos Bikovic, Petar Strugar, Armand Assante, Viktor Savic, Elena Martinez, Branko Duric, Predrag Vasic

Director: Dragan Bjelogrlic

Screenwriters: Ranko Bozic, Dimitrije Vojnov, Dragan Bjelogrlic

Producer: Dejan Petrovic

Executive producer: Goran Bjelorlic

Director of photography: Goran Volarevic

Production designers: Goran Joksimovic, Nemanja Petrovic

Costume designer: Dragica Lausevic

Editors: Petar Markovic, Svetolik Zajc, Dejan Urosevic

Music: Magnifico, Luz Casal

No rating, 144 minutes