Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tribeca ’10: Freetime Machos

At least they don’t live in Iceland. Modern life might take a toll on the Finnish men of Oulu, but they do not have to worry about volcanoes or government insolvency. They do live in a company town though. In a city almost entirely beholden to Nokia, with very few social outlets, one group of men asserts their masculinity by playing on an amateur rugby team. However, the Oulu club finds itself at a crossroads in Mika Ronkainen’s documentary, Freetime Machos (trailer here), which screens during the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

Frankly, the Oulu team is not very good. In fact, if they do not improve their standing, they will be demoted to an inferior league at the end of the season. While none of the Oulu players are eager for a fresh humiliation, each has distractions on the home front. Mikko is the team leader, but his wife’s pregnancy (her fifth) and her new job force him to devote more time to his family. After resigning from Nokia to write a thinly veiled novel about the technology giant, time is not necessarily a problem for Jarmo. Unfortunately, their British coach Roger expects to soon join him amongst the ranks of the unemployed, because the Finnish company recently announced the dissolution of his division.

Since the team prefers to party in the sauna, there is plenty of towel-snapping locker-room humor in Freetime. Still, Ronkainen clearly sees deeper social dynamics at work in their horseplay. Indeed, notions of manliness are the primary reason most of the players joined the team. Yet, their ideals of masculinity are periodically challenged, particularly by Ana, the team’s best player who is not allowed into official games by virtue of her gender.

Freetime often feels like a mockumentary enacted with perfect deadpan comedic timing by its burly cast, yet it is indeed part of Tribeca’s world documentary feature competition. Frequently very funny, Freetime is also surprisingly absorbing, pulling the audience into the lives of “the third lousiest rugby team in the world.” Perhaps most compelling is their expatriate coach, who provides some of the films funniest lines, often as a means of dealing with his own difficult circumstances. He also shows a real love for the game. In fact, Oulu would probably be a much better team if they listened to him more.

Celebrating the epic in everyday life, Freetime is a thoroughly engaging film. While there is the occasionally weird subtext, it has an idiosyncratic charm that should prove to be a crowd pleaser at the festival. It screens during Tribeca on Sunday (4/25), Monday (4/26), Wednesday (4/28), and Saturday (5/1).