There’s something about football that speaks to me on a level that most other things can’t. Or don’t want to. Or just haven’t even considered trying to do. First, it is a sport that I play, that breaths life into me when I take the field. Running for a ball isn’t so much as running, working, exercising as it is being a part of a larger pageant. Those who aren’t football fans will cry excessive use of force with that description, but those who are fans will agree.
On this, the 4th night of the Kicking and Screening film festival, we watched Eine Andere Liga (2005, dir: Buket Alakus), a German movie about a Turkish-German girl, Hayat (Karoline Herfurth), who is diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age and gets a mastectomy. Besides the obvious traumas involved in losing a part of yourself and battling a ferocious disease, Hayat struggles with going through the final stages of puberty and discovering men. The background to all of this is Hayat’s love of football and her desire to continue playing despite being weakened by her medication and surgery. It is a fairly straightforward and formulaic story in many respects, but the way it was handled, especially by the fantastic Karoline Herfurth, left me feeling closer to both football as a uniter and outlet because it is the human undercurrent in every game, the daily struggles by every player, from the best players in the world down to lowly old me and my crappy pickup games, that makes our game as wonderful and beautiful as it is.
Whenever we are faced with dilemmas, with life-altering situations, we automatically wish everything could be as it had been and that is a major part of this film, whose main characters–Hayat and her father (Thierry van Werveke)–are in the throws of changes that place them squarely at odds with what they’ve always wanted in life. For Hayat it’s to play football, for her father, it’s to be reunited with his deceased wife. Life plays itself out on the pitch through romance, fun, and the redemptive process of finding yourself when you thought nothing could ever be right again, but as always, it’s off-the-field issues that end up being what’s most important.
Film Grade: 9/10. It’s a wonderful film and well worth your time despite some of its formulaic drawbacks. You see the end coming, but it’s an ending you’re rooting for the whole time, especially in the terrifying, heart-wrenching, and amazingly acted sex scene. This is life and this is football and dammit it’s good to know that it’s possible to be saved by an inflated sheep’s bladder being kicked around a grassy field.
The panel discussion before the movie included Yael Averbuch of the USWMNT and WPS’s SKy Blue FC and Ethan Zohn, founder of Grassroots Soccer (and you might know him from Survivor: Africa too). They talked about how soccer is beautiful and meaningful on a variety of levels and Yael said she refers to the game as her “beautiful release” (a line she stole from Sarah McLachlan, apparently) because it gets her away from anything that is bothering her. That is a sentiment I can get behind because if you’ve ever closed your eyes on a field and let the feeling of playing take you for a moment, you can be anywhere but here and now and when you do come back to the present, to the problems, you’re lighter, happier, better able to handle it. And that, I think, is what Eine Andere Liga is all about and what, in the end, the entirety of football is about.
With that I take my leave of Kicking and Screening (other parts here, here, here, and here), though there’s still one day left that I will not be able to attend. Tomorrow night’s offering is The Game of Their Lives (about the North Korean national team) and a short called Africa 10 as well as a panel involving The Game of their Lives director Daniel Gordon. It’s been a fantastic time and I’d like to thank Rachel, Greg, Annie, and the rest of the K&S crew for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful experience. They were gracious, open, and down-to-earth hosts who were willing to go the extra mile to make it a good time for everyone. So thanks again to them and I hope to see some of you at next year’s K&S Festival. You know you want to be there to meet me, after all.
Check out their charities, too, while you’re at it: Play31 and COPA NYC. I’ll try to make it to some of COPA’s matches in late July and will update you here on that in case you’re around. And now return to your regularly scheduled broadcasting of mind-numbing transfer rumors…