Sunday Ball


Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

Sunday Ball
"I’ll stick my neck out, Brian, and predict that this young lad’s got a bright future as a director."

They may not have done so well at this year’s World Cup, but Brazil will forever be synonymous with all that’s best about football. This documentary shows why.

Its setting is only a hopeful upfield punt by an England ‘star’ away from the Maracana Stadium, one of the finals’ iconic venues. But the atmosphere couldn’t be more different. The occasion is the final of the inter-favela championships. The stadium is a bare rectangle, the pitch sanded concrete and dry grass. The fans are right by the touchline and frequently over it. And there isn’t a FIFA bigwig or bored corporate guest in sight.

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But, as Rocha clearly believes, this is where the beating heart of the game can still be found. The fans have a tribal, passionate loyalty to the team from their particular district. The coaches and players clearly subscribe to Bill Shankly’s view that football’s not a matter of life or death – it’s far more important than that. And the referees display the diplomatic skills of a UN mediator, coupled with a very large set of cojones.

Without turning the film into a history lesson or a lecture, Rocha clearly shows that the game remains the ultimate escape and aspiration for the country’s working (and non-working) class. And no over-hyped, economy-draining international junket can match the thrill of watching your local team go head to head with their deadly rivals.

As Geracao and Juventude get down to business, with some very partisan fans from their respective favelas cheering them on and dissing the opposition, he deploys a dizzying array of directorial techniques to tell the story – the long poetic take; the in-your-face close-up; cutaways to the fans’ arguments and exhortations; flashbacks to the teams’ route to the final; and a soundtrack which uses tribal drumming and opera to equal effect.

The trouble with such a scattershot approach is that it takes the focus away from the story at its heart: a simple game of football. It’s often hard to know exactly what’s going on, and whether we’re watching the final or one of the earlier games. Some of the takes are decidedly too long and leisurely, with the result that, despite a slim running time with a single event as its subject, the film’s a lot harder going than it should be.

It’s at its best when it makes a telling cutaway to the wider world – fans listening to reports of the anti-government riots sparked by the World Cup’s extravagance; a team’s joyous procession through their home favela – or homes in on the football itself; hard, fast, possession-based and skilful, reminding the audience (particularly the England fans among it) of why the country remains a storehouse of the world’s greatest talent.

These kids may not be quite in that league but their passion for the game and desperate desire to avoid letting their team down should be a lesson to any overpaid Premier League time-server. Particularly when it goes to penalties at full time. Which, as England fans, in particular, know all too well, will provide the drama with a hero and a villain…

The film’s unlikely to bring any soccer agnostics into the fold and the lack of context is a little frustrating at times. But in its best moments – a team turning the Lord’s Prayer into a motivational pre-match chant; a full-on mobbing of the ref filmed in slo-mo whose forward-backward rhythms resemble the mating dance of a tropical bird – it stands comparison with the best sporting documentaries.

And I’ll stick my neck out, Brian, and predict that this young lad’s got a bright future as a director. But for his next effort he should remember (as any coach will tell him) that organisation is just as important as flair.

Reviewed on: 08 Oct 2014
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As the World Cup in Brazil reaches a climax, a very different final is taking place just down the road…

Director: Eryk Rocha

Writer: Juan Posadas, Eryk Rocha

Year: 2014

Runtime: 71 minutes

Country: Brazil


London 2014

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