Right hand on heart, fast-beating heart. A shimmer in our eyes as they briefly run into each other. Our lips hide hints of smiles, concentrated, while our eyes close. Then we burst in song in unison, love and pride, our anthem, glorious summer sun on our skin, a sunset sun, crickets and birds chirp, laughter and love reverberate, hope pools each day in our veins, we shout, promise to be kind so we can win, we ride our bikes in the hot wind with music blasting, then we come together, silence in the streets, to support with all our bones even another nation in a distant match, with fire and devotion, they’re the underdog, they’re losing, but they can still make it. And before we know it it’s our turn again, so coveted, so feared, but we indulge in it, we shout, jump up and scream and point our fingers at the screen, we laugh, we cry out, we grimace, we flinch or gasp in shock, and then we huddle together, breathe together, try not to make a sound together, waiting for that kick, for that whistle, for that verdict.
These are feelings, remembrances, memories from the future. The World Cup seems to bring them to life simultaneously. It is indeed a “time-machine”*, a ride you step on every four summers where faded memories and habits jolt back to life. Each time, a corner of the mind wanders, even when all hope seems lost, and envisions the next great possibility “only” four years away. And yet, while I can celebrate the emotions it has always evoked, the memories it has never failed to conjure, the people it has invariably brought together, there is little I can celebrate about the World Cup event this year.
All hope did seem lost, and all future memories stained, when, before the inauguration of perhaps the most widely debated World Cup, the litany of online noise grew, and the horrors and hypocrisies of this year’s event were eviscerated. Attempts to distill a justification out of the scandal seem to me like simple relativistic nonsense, like false dilemmas used to coerce a slanted consent. There should be no tolerance for human and civil rights neglect, no business in trying to relativize and redeem mistreatment, and an international body of FIFA’s stature should represent and maintain its human and democratic values and not sell them out.
And just like that, the (perhaps never completely) immaculate “vibes” of this event have been sullied. What does it mean to “keep them”, should we hold on to a memory, a tradition, because it brings us joy? Should we instead turn a more conscious eye and let awareness build within and among us?
“Keeping the vibe” of the World Cup through movies – my suggestions
In the first place, “keeping the vibe” this year must mean maintaining the debate, sentiment for justice, and knowledge of the situation alive. Film can be a strong driver of this information.
The Workers Cup – Adam Sobel
This 2017 documentary sheds a light on the economics behind the World Cup event. It lets the viewer comb through the conclusions, focusing instead on demonstrating the experience of the workers themselves. What struck me the most was understanding the immensity of the mechanism behind an event of this magnitude, often unnoticed. Regrettably, this year it was noticed for the worse possible reasons, making it even more significant to understand the point of view of those directly involved. Too easy to detach oneself and comment from afar.
FIFA Uncovered – Daniel Gordon
FIFA Uncovered is a mini-series that documents the various corruption scandals surrounding the international governing body of football. A must-watch to keep informed and conscious of what goes on before our eyes.
The Imitation Game – Morten Tyldum
Hidden Figures – Theodore Melfi
Two different movies with a common propelling force: inspiration, belief, freedom. Two incredibly powerful films that document the need for justice and the strength found in fighting injustice. The first is a more solemn and, like its protagonist, quietly formidable drama. The second is one of my favorite inspirational movies, suggestive, poignant, fun, relentless. Both are award winning pieces that truly inspire action, a little of what we need right now.
In a second place, there is some good to be unearthed even from this year’s World Cup: a sporting event of this scale necessarily morphs into a window that the whole world will look through. At times, this window successfully directs the global gaze onto important matters. Just in the first week of the tournament, for example, the Iranian team went quiet during the anthem to protest against the oppression of the regime in their country, and German players covered their mouths for their first team picture to protest for LGBTQ+ rights being silenced. The next couple of movies showcase this very idea – that sports can play a part in change.
Invictus – Clint Eastwood
True to its director’s signature, every breath of this movie is realistic and adrenaline-charged. Set during the first years of the Mandela government, the picture sublimely corresponds sports to a change in social perception by detailing the challenges of uniting the South African people after the abolition of Apartheid while chronicling the rebirth of the national rugby team. More than a remarkable piece of history, this movie will engrave itself in the minds of its viewers and rattle them with the force of its authenticity, shock, and raw emotion.
Remember the Titans – Boaz Yakin
This time we move to the US, to follow the touching quest of a high school American football team quite literally playing their way through prejudice. The Titans. Just like its characters, this movie is larger than life. Heartwarming, but violently so, gut-wrenching, but compassionately so. It makes us fall in love with sport itself and the good it can do.
Finally, we may ask ourselves, “Can we still partake in the pleasure of the World Cup?” Perhaps if we remain conscious, decide to act upon our values and actively promote them in a multitude of ways, we can still rejoice in football as something that unites individuals across cultures and nations, and that transversally endows the gift of hope to people.
Bend it Like Beckham – Gurinder Chadha
She’s the Man – Andy Fickman
Two lighthearted comedies, each with a deeper message. Football is the glue that keeps both together and is the background for the coming together of cultures in the first flick, and of genders in the second. Bend it Like Beckham, become somewhat of a comedy and football cult classic, is a heartfelt and uplifting quality watch. I have long cherished She’s the Man because of its sharp wit, its unpredictable and absurd humor, and its delightful characters. Both make viewers live the charm of this sport.
Baggio: The Divine Ponytail (OG Baggio: Il Divin Codino) – Letizia Lamartire
This one is for the Italian nostalgics, we who for this World Cup are left having to adopt a favorite team to support for the second time in a row. A beacon of hope, a caressed melancholy, and an overall moving, breath-holding, and skillfully funny viewership experience.
Merry Christmas (OG Joyeux Noel) – Christian Carion
The apotheosis of football uniting people. Joyeux Noel is the story of one of the most touching events in our modern history, and a beautifully told one at that. The tale of the Christmas Eve Truce during WW1 is a show of courage and humanity and tells us clearly that what unites us can be stronger than what sets us apart. A brief but significant scene depicts soldiers playing football together, a historically accurate rendition of this sport becoming a bonding element of peace. As we near the merry season, this emotional classic and its message are sure to find their way into our hearts once again.
Sometimes, embracing and hanging on to the moments that make us feel good are all we want. At times, however, that means clinging on to something that has drastically changed. In the good and bad, movies can be a medium for this: part of what makes them important is that they can allow us to live or relive experiences that make us feel a certain way. If we open ourselves to change and information, films can also teach us to see from a different perspective, to understand something that eluded us, even to inform us about relevant matters. I encourage you to delve into this dimension as you pursue the atmosphere that only a transnational, transcultural event like the World Cup can give off. And in this pursuit, spoil ourselves with the knowledge that films remain a way to share in the magic of human forces, forces that we can afford to hold fast to for a while longer.
*I completely agree with and love this idea expressed by this Economist author https://www.economist.com/culture/2022/11/10/the-world-cup-is-tarnished-should-fans-enjoy-it-anyway