The Netflix Queue: The Beautiful Game (2102)
The World Cup is winding down, and so are my soccer-themed reviews. I’ll end them on an uplifting note, since my team made the finals, and I’m feeling pretty good about that.
A lot has been said and written over the years about soccer’s ability to change the world. The Beautiful Game, directed by Victor Buhler, wants you to believe every word of it. The feature documentary posits that soccer has the power to change and improve every aspect of life in Africa, all fifty-four distinct nations of it. Buhler raises interesting points through the character-driven film, like that when an African nation does well in international competitions, their economy improves, crime decreases, and in some case, political tensions ease as well. Is that really because of soccer?
To say soccer and its heroic abilities are romanticized in The Beautiful Game is an understatement. So many of the interviews feature children who dream of succeeding professionally in the sport so they can help their families out of the kind of poverty you see in all of those sponsor-a-child commercials. It’s heartbreaking to think that, realistically, most of them won’t achieve that, but the film leaves them to their dreams. The idea is that football gives them hope and motivation, not that it is an easy road – Buhler makes sure to tell the story of one talented young player scammed out of his and his family’s life savings by a phony football manager.
It’s a feel-good story that ends on the high note of the end of civil war in the Ivory Coast being punctuated by the national team winning a match 5:0 – one goal for every year of war, says the mother of one of the players. That sentiment may border on saccharine, but this is a woman who lived through the war, and who fled her hometown after refusing to sell her children into the army. If her national team winning a game is that significant to her people, maybe I need to be quiet and enjoy this doc for all its surface-deep, soccer-romanticizing charm. That’s not that hard to do.