Gandermonium Film Review – ‘United Passions’

Picture this. A man is sat in a car. And over his shoulder we can see he’s making a note in his notebook, meanwhile he has a half eaten sandwich hanging out of his mouth. This of course tells us this guy is a real big shot. A player. Someone who doesn’t even stop for lunch. Notes underlined forcefully in his notebook, the camera switches to a wider shot & the man steps out of his car. A bronze coloured early 70’s Ford Capri.

Looks normal doesn’t it?

At this point, the man wolfs down the remainder of his sarnie, wipes his mouth with a paper napkin and tosses it through the open window on the Capri and strides purposefully across the street in his bad 70’s suit, briefcase in hand, looking like he’s about to go knock off a diamond exchange or rob a bank. All that’s missing is a suitably 70’s ‘bam chick a wow wow’ soundtrack with a gravelly cockney accent doing a voice over. Something along the lines of “The guvna wanted readies. So I had to go get ’em the only fuckin’ way I knew aah’too”.

Hey wait a minute, that bloke looks familiar. It looks like Tim Roth. Hey, I think that IS Tim Roth!

“Oi Taz, is this the latest film from Guy Ritchie or something?” I hear you ask? Erm. Well, no. Not exactly.

What I’ve just described is a scene not from some sort of ganster flick turned out by Mr Ritchie or any of his contemporaries, but from a film called ‘United Passions’, one which tells the story of an organisation by the name of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. Or FIFA to you and me.

And that man that looks like Tim Roth? Well he looks like him because it is him. And he’s playing Sepp Blatter. No, I’m not roaring drunk and neither am I winding you up. There really is a film out there where the guy who starred in Reservoir Dogs plays the dodgy old Swiss geezer in charge of the World’s footballing governing body. And if that’s not bizarre enough for you, it’s a film that was actually commissioned and mainly paid for by FIFA themselves. So whilst you’re not expecting a properly impartial warts and all tale, you also know it’s not going to be a fucking comedy. Well, not intentionally anyway…

Costing some £19 million, 16 million of which came from FIFA’s own coffers, the film was made in 2013 and released in the summer of 2014 to not only coincide with the World Cup in Brazil, but to celebrate the Federation’s 110th anniversary. Well, when I say ‘released’, it wasn’t exactly out there vying with likes of ‘Avengers Assemble’ at your local cineplex. In fact having spent a not inconsiderable sum on the thing and then having it make its debut at the Cannes Film Festival (it wasn’t up for Palm D’Or consideration surprisingly), those crazy Zurich based World Cup organising funsters went and put it on general release in….er….Serbia.

FIFA Founding Fathers. Note lack of brown envelopes…

Now, don’t get us wrong. We like Serbia. A lot. But I think even the most ardent, football mental Serb (and there’s a few of those as we can attest to) would probably agree that even they wouldn’t have gone with their back yard as the first place to release such a cinematic wonder as this. Since then, the film has gone on to play literally tens of cinemas in France (the country in which it was produced) Portugal and er… Hugary. As well as on TV in Italy. And that’s it seemingly. So of course, having first heard of this ridiculous thing and decided I had to see it, I found this was a task not easily achieved as you can probably guess given its rather ‘limited’ circulation.

Still, never let it be said that we here at Gandermonium aren’t without our connections and after a bit of asking around & some meetings in darkened, smoky rooms with shadowy unidentified figures (much like a FIFA congress really!), I finally found myself in possession of a copy. And at this point I’ll just tap the side of my nose with a finger, say something cryptic that Sepp himself would approve of, like “Ask no questions, be told no lies” and get down to the business at hand of watching this sucker.

Before I get into the details, the film proves what a positive riot of horseshit it intends to be by displaying the following on screen before even a single scene is shown: While this story us inspired by actual events and real people, certain characters portrayed, characterizations, scenes & dialogue spoken represent a work of dramatic fiction”. Yeah, I did a bit of a LOL too.

‘United Passions’ is, if you’ll pardon the footballing parlance, a film of two halves. The first 45-50 minutes are distinctly History channel level dramatisation type stuff as we’re told the magical tale of how some disparate European fledgling football federations came together in 1904 and set up a unified body to govern the sport of football worldwide, the second 50 minutes moves more into the more modern dodgy as fuck modern FIFA we know & dislike intensely today with people like Joao Havelange and Mr Blatter appearing.

Still, the first part is passable and you do get to see a rotund Gerard Depardieu (paid in Foie Gras by the looks of it) as Jules Rimet. Sorry, did I not mention Mr Roth isn’t the only serious actor in this? My bad. Sam Neill also shows up later as Joao Havelange, but we’ll get to that shortly. Here we learn about the early struggles of the federation, largely ignored until the late 20’s where Mr Rimet meets a Uruguayan chap who wants his nation to celebrate its 100th birthday by hosting a World football championship. Rimet agrees and then tells his committee that they’re going to have a tournament in a ‘location yet to be decided’ before revealing the ‘selected’ hosts at a later conference. It’s almost like FIFA deliberately had the scene done that way as if to say “Look, this is how we’ve always done it alright?”.

Sam & Tim. Er, we mean Joao and Sepp. Oh never mind….

Much of the historical stuff is as you’d expect, with plenty of digs at us arrogant English (anyone would think this was made by the French. Oh wait, it was!) including one dreadful and completely unecessary scene where an unidentified Englishman pontificates to Rimet’s daughter, played by Jemima West who despite being French born and playing the daughter of a Frenchman speaks in a perfect English accent, about how darkies and daygos shouldn’t play a gentlemans game like football. Now, whilst I’m prepared to accept there were people of this viewpoint in that era, it adds nothing to the film whatsoever and appears simply slotted in to get in another dig at us. Odd.

By far the most entertaining part of the film however is the second half where we’re of course introduced to the gruesome twosome of first Havelange (played by Jurassic Park star Sam Neill) and then Blatter (Roth). First up, they cover Havelange’s usurping of Sir Stanley Rous (Martin Jarvis) with his canvassing of the African nations and promising them a bigger slice of the pie. But quite frankly, this is perfect casting when compared to what comes next. The appearance of Roth’s Blatter.

I’ll give it to ’em, whoever casted this bad boy is a fucking genius.

Now, Sepp’s introduction is low key when he seemingly joins FIFA as a commercial guy. Here, the organisation is skint, they need readies and lots of them. So Sepp has to go bust some fuckin’ balls and get the pennies rolling in which leads to the scene mentioned at the beginning which thanks to the appearance of the Capri and the bad 70’s suit quite frankly had me laughing so much, I actually had to pause the DVD.

After this, we’re largely treated to a fabulously shit airbrushing of the modern day FIFA as Havelange is portrayed merely as a straight talking, hard arsed administrator who’ll stop at nothing to ensure the future of football and FIFA and he doesn’t care who he upsets doing it, whilst Blatter cops a frankly preposterous, almost Ghandi-esque portrayal (amazing eh?) where he’s made out to be the man who saves the federation by persuading Coca-Cola and then Adidas to get on board (it was actually Havelange who was responsible for these early commercial link-ups) and cements his gaffer’s throne by schmoozing with his African power base, followed by this non-stop Jesus Christ of football which leads to another frankly cracking scene where Sepp and Horst Dassler are talking football whilst in Angola post Mexico ’86, whilst lots of African kids in Adidas stuff are playing in the background. Horst is trying to impress on his buddy the need to ‘slow down, take a break’ all whilst Sepp mutters about the locals needing European coaches to help them develop ‘Or there’s no point’, ‘we should be concentrating on Womens teams’ and finally when the World Cup is ‘here, in the USA and Asia, then I’ll take a break’. It’s just brilliant. Total and utter bollocks of course, but brilliant nonetheless.

And it goes on. I could fill this article out again entirely about the little points where Blatter is made to look like this benevolent overlord, only wanting the best for football, the ‘FIFA family’ and nothing else. And all whilst not bein’ no fackin’ grass.

“Just pay ’em all off sunshine!”

The latter stages of the film of course cover Sepp becoming FIFA President. Well. Sort of. It’s laughably short on details and tries to build intrigue and suspense whilst telling you absolutely sod all about what the intrigue actually is and why there should be suspense. The prime example is Blatter’s lazarus like return from the dead in 2002. Faced with open revolt in the Executive committee and a robust challenge from Issa Hayatou for the presidency, ol’ Sepp is being backed into a corner and all looks lost. There’s vague mentions & allusions to impropriety of some sort having gone on, but no real depth as to why the ExCo natives are revolting. Then when it seems Hayatou will win the vote for the presidency, Sepp turns to his mentor Havelange, who simply tells him that ‘indecisive people are easily managed’.

And I’m sure both you and I have absolutely no fucking idea what that could possibly mean.

Next thing we know, it’s the day of the vote and Blatter wins a miraculous victory (one it has since turned out was paid for by a certain Mr Mohammed Bin Hammam handing out fat envelopes of readies). And then that’s it. We’re done. End credits! Yes ladies & gents, the film made to celebrate the federation’s 110th birthday ends with an event 2 years before it’s 100th!

Well, not quite. As during those end credits we get reasonably CGI’d footage of Roth as Blatter announcing the 2010 tournament being awarded to South Africa (in what looks like the conference hall at Sutton Holiday Inn) and handing the World Cup trophy to Nelson Mandela. Stirring stuff. Not.

All in, ‘United Passions’ wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be. But then again it’s mainly thanks to the unintentionally funny moments contained within which are undoubtedly mostly provided by Roth’s Blatter rather than any  sparkling script or gripping storyline. It’s actually a portrayal that I couldn’t quite decide if it was being done with tongue so firmly in cheek that no one at FIFA got the irony or was a genuinely straight up job. I’m hoping the former as Roth has said in interviews that he was disappointed the script lacked all the dodgy double dealing etc. So who knows.

This is some scary shit.

Naturally, the second 50 minutes of picture is a complete fairy tale with that opening statement mentioned above pushed to its limits and the film has clearly been made to (unsurprisingly) make Sepp look amazing. But it also does it whilst managing not to throw any of his contemporaries to the wolves either. Which in itself is both disappointing and rather impressive in a way.

‘United Passions’ isn’t a film I’d recommend you go out of your way to pay to see. But if it pops up on TV somewhere or you can lay your hands on a knock off DVD copy (or a download), then I’d certainly suggest checking it out, if like me you don’t mind wasting a Sunday afternoon on B-Movie rubbish like this.

And with that, I’ll leave you with the words of comedian John Oliver, who in a monologue on US TV shortly before the 2014 World Cup, tore into FIFA and this very film.

“Who makes a sports film where the heroes are the executives?”.

Full Trailer

John Oliver on FIFA

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