night, I had the distinct pleasure of watching this French-produced
docu-film in the company of one of its most prominent stars, Predrag
Hélas, I don't wish to deceive you, dear reader; the great man and I
are not acquainted, much to my chagrin. In reality, Predrag and I
merely happened to be two unconnected members of a large audience
present during a screening of the film at Belgrade's Dvorana Kulturnog
Centra - he as a distinguished invited guest, I as a fascinated
onlooker eager to lap up the fascinating on-screen imagery and history
I felt sure Eric Cantona, Gilles Perez, and Gilles Rof would provide.
Unfortunately, if I am completely honest, my entire interaction with Mr
Pašić last night consisted of little more, in this case, than the
surreptitious casting of longing glances in his direction over the
course of the 90-minute film.
On the other hand, Predrag's very presence in the auditorium at DKC was
a delightful bonus on which I had not counted; this alone was enough to
captivate me for the evening, and I determined before the film even
began that the night would be a success no matter the quality of the
fare on offer. So much for critical objectivity, I hear you cry.
Well, that's just the way it is.
As for the film itself, it sells itself as a film-manifeste that
"reaffirms" sporting values, doing so through the presentation of five
heroic footballers and their stories. Dividing the film into fifths,
each story deals with a particular player - Didier Drogba, Carlos
Caszely, Rachid Mekhloufi, Predrag Pašić, and Sócrates - and how that
individual "said no," or "resisted." The film details the actions of
these individuals and how these actions affected their respective
societies, environments, and those around them. Aiming to tell tales of
struggle against adversity, the five segments serve as an attempt to
illustrate how the men featured fought for their families, futures,
independence, nations, and, indeed, their survival.
Beginning with Didier Drogba's quest for peace in the Ivory Coast, the
film takes us to Chile with Carlos Caszely, Algeria and Tunis with
Rachid Mekhloufi, Sarajevo with Predrag Pašic, and, finally, to Brazil,
to study the events surrounding Sócrates and Corinthians Democracy. The
stories are not directly connected in terms of chronology or causal
relationship. Instead, they each contribute to the overriding themes of
the film; resistance-through-football, the power of football to wield
significant influence on popular opinion and culture, its propaganda
value, and its power to change.
The one constant in the film is the presence of its hyperbolic, madcap
narrator, Eric Cantona, who plays something of a playmaker role,
stringing the various segments together with a succession of
interludes, histrionic vignettes, and numerous bearded close-ups.
SO, WORTH A WATCH?
Okay, now that you know what it's all about, let's address the most
important issues surrounding the film; is it any good? Does it deliver
on its promises? Is this a mere vanity project, or a worthwhile
didactic pursuit? And, is Monsieur Cantona not-so-subtly angling for a
future role as Fidel Castro in any potential biopic of the Cuban
To start off, there are two undeniable points to highlight in
relation to the film. Firstly, it is beautifully shot, containing some
wonderful, colourful, footage from the various locations visited by the
camera crew during the course of the film. Particularly spectacular are
the environmental and urban shots from Abidjan, Tunis, and Sao Paulo.
For the football-obsessive, the film provides some marvellous and rare
images of matches, moments, players, and stadiums. Of special interest
to the anoraks amongst us will be the scenes from the Algerian
rebel-games of the 1950s, as well as the grainy-yet-vivid pictures of
the outstanding 1980s Corinthians team of Sócrates and co. As a result
of the inclusion of this old footage and its rich, distinct nature, the
appetites of footballing-aesthetes will no doubt be satisfied. For
those not so enamoured with the game, there is, perhaps, just enough
imagery of scenes outside football's purview to compensate. In this
regard, I point to the archive footage of post-rebellion Algeria, the
peek inside the makeshift detention centre/torture chamber that was the
Estadio Nacional de Chile, and the saddening film from within Sarajevo
and Predrag Pašić's Bubamara football-school.
The second undeniable
that applies to the film is its message: football is important. It has
power. Yet, it is malleable. The power it possesses can be used for bad
or good, for negative or positive, for propaganda or for information.
The game is a tool - unwitting, perhaps - whose usage can be adjusted
and moulded to suit the needs of those who attempt to do so. We see
enough examples of situations where this has been put into action for
nefarious purposes; this film seeks to show the other side of the coin,
the moments and situations in which the game has excelled beyond its
confines, influencing society and opinion for positive,
Much negativity surrounds the sport,
particularly amongst those outside the "circle," those who look in at a
world incomprehensible to them and see nothing more than a beast;
violent, corrupt, hate-fuelled. This film serves, in my eyes at least,
as a message to them: Think Again. Think Again, please. See the joy
football brings. See what it can accomplish. See that it is capable of
achieving things a decade of diplomacy, politicking, hatred, and
violence cannot. Failure to appreciate this is a failure to understand.
Look past the overpaid, abuse-spouting, jumped-up thugs that appear in
tabloid headlines, supposedly representing the nature of football. Are
men such as this to be considered the norm within the footballing
world? I say not. Ignore them. Focus instead on men such as Sócrates
and Predrag Pašić.
Judge not the game by the leeches that cling to it - the racists, the
hooligans, the politicians who twist the sport for their aims.
exist, that is without doubt. But these people are not truly part of
it. No, they are but mere invaders, raping the crops sown by hundreds
of years of football's development. They don't define us, they merely
defame us. This film, flawed as it is, preaches such a message. One of
inspiration rather than desperation.
And yes, alas, it is flawed. Despite the positive nature of the film,
its excellent photography, and its relatively high production values,
it lacks something. There is, perhaps, a dearth of content. Much of Les
Rebelles' fine sentiment is not backed up with substance. Often, the
viewer receives little more than an overview of each story. Clearly,
there is more to tell, and Les Rebelles, for the most part, does not do
so. Maybe, this is a consequence of the structure of the film; five
segments within a ninety-minute feature. Possibly, the film ought to
have been a television series, focusing on the individuals in hour-long
episodes rather than the stunted, insufficiently-detailed blocks with
which we are presented.
Further to this point, another issue relates to
the role of Monsieur Eric Cantona. Admittedly, I loved every moment he was on screen. The man, whichever
way you view him, has a presence and charisma that few possess. His
hysterical, outrageously over-the-top narration reflects him as a
player; colourful, flamboyant, dramatic, theatrical, and not entirely
devoid of arrogance. However, I can't help but feel that Eric's style
of presentation will either make or break the film for those who view
it. The mode of engagement he employs is, as indicated, flair-filled,
and he dominates the screen like some kind of Gallic, collar-raising
Brian Blessed. Yet, he really does overdo it. As someone who is
familiar with Cantona, I recognise the deliberate, irony-tinted brand
of bombast that is his trademark. But will that be the case with all of
the film's audience? I sincerely doubt it. He takes himself seriously,
for sure, but not as seriously as one might imagine upon viewing Les
Rebelles. Indeed, his performance is so utterly melodramatic, hammy,
and egocentric that even I begin to lose touch with my awareness of his
ability to self-mock and self-efface, as evidence in Ken Loach's
Looking for Eric. To some, the film might appear as something of a
vanity project on the part of Cantona - who, by the way, threw the
weight of his Canto Bros production company behind the film.
film, thus, simply a vehicle to further the ex-United man's career and
to boost his status as a cult icon?
In my opinion, the answer to this is a simple "no." This is not a
vanity project. It is, however, a project that does contain a liberal
amount of vanity, both on the part of its presenter and its
Les Rebelles could have been so much more. The potential was there. The
footage was there. The charismatic stars were there. It was beautiful,
showy, and brimming with Gallic potential - it just didn't quite
deliver all it promised. To use an old footballing cliché, it flattered
to deceive. In other words, it was David Ginola. Les Rebelles has value
- great value, in fact. But this value is likely to be restricted to
those already in love with the beautiful game, rather than those to
whom it means little. Upon viewing, some converts will be made on the
back of the film. Some haters will hate the game less than before.
Those who are entirely disinterested in football might gain a modicum
of respect. Others who look down on us as nothing more than the
grateful recipients of "the opiate of the masses" might think twice.
But, it should have done more.
It should have done more. Yet still, I loved every second. If you adore
football as I do, go and see this film.