"Written in the Stars: The Official Film of the 2002 World Cup." Available on FIFA+ (free registration)
You went to your cousin's wedding and you thought you'd done your bit by showing up in your best suit. Now it's one year later and you're sitting at Aunt Jennifer's dinner table. Do you want to see the official DVD of your cousin's big day? It's not the kind of question you can answer with, 'Perhaps another time.' Not if you know what's good for you.
The problem with the official wedding video is that it will miss out all the most interesting parts. The bride breaking down in tears of doubt before breakfast and choking down a valium so she can get through the ceremony. The best man trying to talk the groom out of a terrible mistake on the way to the church. The killer looks exchanged between the two mother-in-laws. The drunken uncle's inappropriate comments to the teenage bridesmaid. The family elders making side-bets on how long the marriage will last as they knock back Tequila Mules. The 48-hour hangovers.
As you sit down with your aunt, you also realize to your horror that she commissioned Welsh actor and "soccer fan" Michael Sheen to do the voiceover. "As Miriam walked up the aisle," he will intone in a voice steeped in earnest profundity, "those in attendance realized they were witness to the most astonishing and best-chosen wedding dress in the history of marital fashion." Furthermore, the bride's ring has been smelted "from ancient gold hewn from the heart of our planet, an enduring symbol of what turned out to be the most exciting, memorable and magnificent wedding ever."
FIFA's official World Cup movies are infuriating artifacts. They offer the kind of camera angles that only soccer's global governing body can access, and some of the field-level perspectives offer a truly thrilling perspective of the tournament. Given the players and the action available, it's a difficult commission to screw-up. Yet FIFA succeeds quite spectacularly in not only avoiding any of Qatar's interesting discussion points, it makes you scream for mercy and the mute button to erase Sheen's banal, trite and patronizing commentary, which seems to be aimed at the up-and-coming soccer fan in the preschool demographic.
It's not Sheen's fault, of course. The actor didn't write the guff he tries to imbue with the gravitas of a historical significance that can't possibly exist in a mere sporting event. He was just likely paid a massive amount of cash to do so. "Messi carries the expectations of millions on his shoulders," he tells us, like he's just decoded the Dead Sea Scrolls. Who knew?
There is also, Sheen tells us, "immense pride across the Muslim world at hosting the World Cup." Throughout the film, the Muslim and "Arab world" are constantly told what they think of it all, and how as one single entity they all stand behind the Moroccan team. This must be true, because the words are being uttered by FIFA's hushed, awe-mining thespian mouthpiece.
Believe it or not, but most soccer fans don't need to be told that Lionel Messi's a soccer genius, and that last year's final was indeed perhaps the best in almost a century of World Cups. Let the moving pictures do the talking, with some subtitles of the games, their scores and scorers. If you're going to ignore the issue of exploited migrant workers, the controversy around the One Love armband, Iran's refusal to sing their own national anthem in protest at their repressive government (as far as this movie's concerned, Iran was not even there), and the farcical VAR snafu that left most viewers thinking France and Tunisia had drawn 1-1 long after the final whistle, then why bother with this painful and needless narrative? If you've nothing to say and want to let the action do the talking, then follow through with at least some measure of editorial quality.
"Pulsating! Fiery! Ferocious!" huffs Sheen in talking about the Argentina-Netherlands quarterfinal with 17 yellow cards and a red. "Uruguayan fury" is referred to as Edinson Cavani knocks over a VAR monitor following his country's narrow group stage exit. These are just tantalizing slithers of controversy that could have taken the movie into much deeper territory. For example, why do players still surround referees and yell at them, like the Uruguayan players did with German referee Daniel Siebert? Is it because FIFA's feeble implementation of its own rules is just as inadequate now as it was back in 1930?
That's not up for discussion here. Instead, we're subject to ham-fisted attempts to make Qatar look like a venue steeped in beauty and history. Some filtered yet still unimpressive sunsets and a fan playing an ancient board game with the locals are not quite enough to back that up. At one point, a French family supposedly on a beach look like they're stuck on a dark and barren wasteland suffering the post-apocalyptic holiday from hell. Trips to the living-rooms of fans thousands of miles away in Argentina, Australia and Canada are shoehorned in to replace the almost total lack of local sporting culture, but only serve to stress how far away Qatar 2022 took place from the real soccer world.
And yet, if you can stand Sheen's shockingly bad voiceover ("the mercurial magic of Messi" he blows out at some point — Ray Hudson may want to call his lawyers. And who knows what Olivier Giroud will make of "the golden climax" to his career?), all the on-field drama from the final group games and the knockout rounds should make your skin tingle as much as it did the first time around. To cite just one example, not even FIFA can make you tired of watching Messi's run before setting up Argentina's third goal in the semifinal against Croatia, or Neymar's series of give-and-gos to score against the same opponents one round earlier.
Even better, there is only one very brief shot of FIFA's disastrous President, Gianni Infantino, and — luckily for him — no mention at all of his pre-tournament speech comparing himself to an oppressed migrant worker. An example of the latter is seen sweeping the street for a micro-second as we are shown preparations for the final. That's as close as we get to an acknowledgment of the serial abuse and exploitation of tens of thousands of workers that made this misplaced tournament possible at all.
"Didn't we all just have the greatest time?" Aunt Jennifer will say, turning to me with a smile as the final credits run on the wedding DVD. I won't point out that the drunken uncle went straight into rehab, that the catering bill came in at $10K above budget, and that the happy couple's already been seeing a marriage counselor. Let's not look at the dirt beneath the Sheen.
Think there's a small typo in the title
Ian, what is your problem? You should consider professional help. Life can be positive.
Hi Peter, nice to hear from you again. You read that book on Qatar yet that I recommended?
Darn. I was looking forward to reading about a film about the 2002 WC.
Woa, wait! Isn't this artciel a spoiler for another "Back to the future" film? Yup, 2002 WC... man o man, my good amigos in SA didn't do their due diligence in the editing process. But what is the author's problem? Jeepers, had he submitted this "paper" to a history professor, he'd be well advised to drop the course, or do extre CREDIT and rewrite it.
Okay so the film is a FIFA propaganda piece. What do you expect from greedy corrupt managers?
Sorry, Ian. I can't get excited about this topic. But I don't think you deserve rotten tomatoes because you do.
I would rather people focused on climate change. It was impacting food production 50 years ago. Over a billion people face fresh water shortages in their local areas so far. Areas of the US face shortages too. Including areas producing food. And some people see shortages as future profit centers. Oh I am concerned about propaganda, but not FIFA's.