United Passions – soccer politics and propaganda

The men, the myth (especially the myth), the legend (…ary myth). United Passions is the authorized story of the FIFA World Cup through three of its presidents.

Jules Rimet – the man who gave us the World Cup, and was largely criticized for helping to promote Mussolini’s fascist regime by handing Italy the 1934 tournament.

João Havelange – whose 1974 campaign was funded by adidas before they won their extended FIFA contracts, and who was found guilty of accepting bribes after leaving office in 1998.

United Passions.

Lastly, Sepp Blatter, who needs no introduction at all.

One notable omission was Sir Stanley Rous. A former referee, who took charge of international ties and an FA Cup Final, Rous literally rewrote the rulebook as he simplified the game for the masses. Despite his support of pro-Apartheid South Africa alternating between all-white and all-black teams, Rous is regarded as one of the great FIFA presidents, and the first to try bringing Asia and Africa closer to the game. Perhaps that last part was the reason that Rous was not a central character, given Sepp Blatter’s power of creative control and desire for a legacy in those parts of the world.

To call this a box-office smash is akin to taking a hammer to a piggy bank, only to see a moth fly out. At a cost of over $26m, a mere $319 was made on the day of its North American release. That’s roughly 35-40 people in a nation of 319,000,000. One theater in Phoenix, AZ had a solitary moviegoer. Presumably, that individual bought a ticket after getting embarrassed at the thought of publicly announcing he was about to watch Pitch Perfect 2.

Rotten Tomatoes rated United Passions at 0%. IMDB’s public ratings are currently at 22%, after some suspect 10/10 reviews claiming to have learned so much from this movie. User S_Blatter36 was particularly full of praise for Tim Roth’s portrayal of the movie’s hero – Okay, that one sentence may be my own creative control.

Irony was certainly not lost on director, Frédéric Auburtin, as he cast Gerard Depardieu, Sam Neill and Tim Roth as Rimet, Havelange, and Blatter.

Depardieu won a Golden Globe for his role in Green Card – a movie where he is part of a sham marriage and is eventually caught and punished.

Sam Neill gave us a history lesson, in The Tudors, as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Wolsey was charged with treason and made many foreign enemies as he took advantage of a position of power.

Tim Roth played ‘The Abomination’ in The Incredible Hulk and is known for the botched hold-up before quietly retreating in Pulp Fiction. They all have that FIFA track record in their filmographies!

From the start of the movie in 1904, as the proposed federation is formed, there is a real sense that someone does not like the English at all. Frederick Wall and Lord Kinnaird are dismissive of allowing the world to play their personal game. Another Englishman complains about the idea of hosting the World Cup in South America, before making a derogatory statement about Africans.

Sir Stanley Rous warns João Havelange that he is not from a privileged enough background to be a part of FIFA, and then declares that Africa must not be included in football, or trusted. Just remember that Rous is the man credited with trying to include the African continent in FIFA affairs.

The movie is loaded with cheese and stupidity.

From Jules Rimet’s claim that the 1924 Olympics were not a valid tournament as England did not play when they would not enter a World Cup until 1950, to Sepp Blatter’s first act as president being a speech to the Executive Committee about punishing ethics violations.

We see product placement feature heavily in scenes where children in Angola play football in adidas clothing, whilst taking a break to enjoy a Coca-Cola (Even the hiss of Coke bottles being opened is amplified to a ridiculous level, so you know what it is before the camera even shows a mass of those familiar shaped bottles).

There is a strange moment that centers around a discussion on the infamous Death Match, from their new office in neutral Switzerland during World War II. The fledgling FIFA executives tell Andy Dougan’s version of the match between Ukrainian footballers and a team of German anti-aircraft gunners. Dougan’s book was found to be largely fictitious, and an account that didn’t exist for 60 years after the scene took place.

A large part of the film seems to be an excuse for FIFA’s continual failings. Blatter is introduced, on his first day working for FIFA, as a man who is ‘apparently good at finding money’. His excellent work on the commercial front is often offset by the implication that Havelange is stealing from FIFA.

The very first FIFA World Cup is purchased by Uruguay’s limitless budget to aid their 100th birthday, and false assurances are given regarding the completion of the stadium after the sham vote is held.

Another scene sees Blatter and Havelange discussing sponsors’ concerns about human rights violations in Argentina, ahead of the 1978 finals. Blatter plays the ethicist, whilst Havelange uses a Subbuteo set to compare himself to God. At least we know Qatar is in good company.

The overall message is pretty clear, be thankful for Joseph Blatter. Our Swiss hero saved football’s governing body, eradicated corruption, paid staff out of his own pocket when money was missing, and still protected those that sought to pin their corruption on him.

Blatter’s finest moment, however, comes when he is told he looks tired. His response is that he cannot rest until the USA, Africa, Asia, and women all have World Cups. Yes, Mr tight shorts is the Godsend of the women’s game and a hero of the United States of America.

This is a propaganda piece at its finest.

The script is full of inaccuracies, the acting strikes you as though Depardieu and Roth may not share their characters’ convictions. Roth publicly aired his disappointment that the more recent corruption was not acknowledged. Three of the four key figures at ISL all feature heavily after all.

Strangely, this hour-and-forty-five-minute insight into Sepp Blatter’s somewhat twisted view of his achievements, whilst vilifying his predecessors to various levels, is absolutely intriguing. It is the sports version of The Room. Tommy Wiseau wrote, directed, funded and starred in one of the worst movies ever made. The film gained cult status for being so awful, United Passions really could attract the same following. Maybe it is so bad that it’s brilliant.

★☆☆☆☆

“United Passions is this summer’s must-see axiom”

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