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Soccer in Film

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Milos Stehlik— Director of Facets Multimedia; Worldview Film Contributor When soccer replaces American “football” as the most popular sport in America ,  perhaps the divide which isolates America culturally from the rest of the world will come to an end.

The passion that soccer, known pretty much everywhere else in the world as football, inspires is so universal that it amazingly crosses boundaries of class, race, geography, religion, background and belief.

This mythic status of soccer finds a potent representation in film. Most sports movies are not very good films, but soccer movies are an exception. The best known recent film, BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM , follows two British girls, one of whom's of East Indian origin as they decide to break with tradition and chase their dream of making their future in professional soccer. The commercial prospects of this small and charming film were helped by its association with celebrity soccer-star and Spice-girl husband David Beckham.

  In SHAOLIN SOCCER, a commercial Hong Kong comedy directed by Stephen Chow, soccer is melded with martial arts, as a former soccer star, on the outs with his boss meets a Shaolin Kung Fu expert and decides he could get even with his former coach.

  Soccer and romance are odd bedfellows in Bill Forsyth's wonderful Scottish comedy, GREGORY'S GIRL, in which Gregory likes Dorothy but is too awkward and shy to do much about it. Soccer is a factor because Dorothy has made it onto the team, and she happens to be a better player than Gregory.

  The classic of Greek cinema, Michael Cacoyannis' STELLA, made in 1955, uses football as a subtext in a film with a strong feminine theme. Melina Mercouri plays the main character of Stella, a rembetika singer, who is in love with Miltos, a soccer player. But she doesn't want to marry. Miltos finally forces her to accept the idea, but Stella doesn't appear in church, and at the end he kills her.

  In recent films soccer has been the locus of political strife. In the Israeli film CUP FINAL, a young Israeli soldier is kidnapped by a group of Palestinian fighters during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon . The World Cup is on, and the love of soccer by fighters on both sides serves to break down their historical and nationalistic divisions.

  In THE CUP, two young Tibetan refugees who are new arrivals at a monastery in India find their meditative life disrupted by news of the World Cup being played in France . A young student, Orgyen, prevented from seeing the Cup Finals on television in the village, takes maters into his own hands so he can watch the game, and sets Buddhist education into turmoil.

  In Iranian cinema, football has a long tradition. In Abbas Kiarostami's most wonderful early film THE TRAVELER, a young boy dreams of getting to Tehran so he can see a soccer match. After a long and arduous struggle to get there, he is so exhausted that he sleeps through the game. The political element is ratcheted up in OFFSIDE, the recent film by Jafar Panahi, in which a young girl cross-dresses as a man so that she can get to watch the soccer game where only men are allowed as spectators.

  Women's soccer – the first official friendly match between the Iranian women's football team and a local girls' team from Berlin is the subject of a new documentary, FOOTBALL UNDER COVER. The Iranian women's team had never played against another team. They were permitted to train only indoors, and not even other women were allowed to watch them in a stadium. Getting permission from the formidable Iranian bureaucracy was an enormous task. Despite having to play in long sleeved shirts, long pants and scarves and being forbidden to advertise, they triumph by attracting 1,000 women as spectators.

Soccer becomes the bridge across the divide.

This is Milos Stehlik for Chicago Public Radio's Worldview.

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