EUFF13 Review: Dream Team 1935
The “inspired by true events” sports film is nothing new. We’ve seen it in Miracle (about US Hockey’s victory), Cool Runnings (about Jamaican bobsledding) and Chariots of Fire (about UK track and field). Now we have the Toronto premiere of Aigars Grauba’s Dream Team 1935 about the Latvian basketball team which won the first European Basketball championships. And like the other films I mentioned, the film does what these other sports films accomplish by making the audience absolutely root for the underdog team we’re following…despite knowing they’ll likely win.
The odd issue regarding this film is the movie has an odd political-social-historical connection because of Latvia’s history. I honestly know very little about the country of Latvia, but I do recall university lessons about their struggles for independence only to be invaded by both German and Soviet, and ultimately forced to become a part of the Soviet Union. Yet as an American, I really know very little about the country’s history, which makes a story like Dream Team 1935 both compelling for what little information it provides, and frustrating for what it seems to leave out. It’s part of the problem with watching foreign films which are made to appeal to their country of origin. What one can assume an audience knows as part of their national history, I have to admit to being a bit lost and wanting a bit more explanation of political-social climate having an effect on the story.
But even with my own lapses in inexcusable knowledge of the country, I knew that Latvia was a tiny country, considered insignificant by more powerful nations in 1935, making Dream Team 1935 an obvious underdog story. And any film about the history of a sport is always interesting and compelling to watch (I’m not a sports fan by nature and even I enjoy historical sports documentaries). More importantly, Grauba makes a well-made, unsentimental yet feel good period dramedy. And has an exceptionally good cast to help tell this story of national pride.
The majority of the cast are newcomers who have the potential to make the transition to international fame if the film is marketed and released properly. Janis Amanis as coach Valdemars Baumanis is charismatic and holds the screen as the composed and eloquent man who got the job by default and had to fight his own country to get his team to the Euro-Championships. But it’s Marvis Manjakos who has real star power as the team captain, able to captivate on screen despite his limited screen time. But the entire cast is strong, if underused; if I had one wish for them film it would have been the opportunity to give a bit more time and character development to the team members.
The other issue I have with the film is the excessive use of slow-motion and tendency to be repetitive with plot points. Even if the exact same events did play out, with so many in the cast, shifting focus to different characters would have helped the film’s pacing. But these issues are relatively minor for a film which is an enjoyable, if not revolutionary, entry into the true sports story about an event more than worthy of a feature film.
Dream Team 1935 screens on Tuesday, November 19, 2013 at 8:30 PM. To reserve your space for this free screening, visit the European Union Film Festival Toronto website.