Friday, December 19, 2014

Submitted by Serbia: See You in Montevideo

Uruguay hosted the first FIFA World Cup in 1930. It was a full sixty-five years before Sepp Blatter joined the international sports organization, but the fix was still in, nonetheless. The Yugoslavian National Team will bear the brunt of the tournament’s dubious officiating, but they will make history just the same in Dragan Bjelogrlić’s See You in Montevideo (trailer here), which Serbia has selected as their official foreign language submission for the upcoming Academy Awards.

It was not easy getting to Uruguay. It took an entire film (Bjelogrlić’s Montevideo: Taste of a Dream, submitted in 2011) for poor earnest Aleksandar “Tirke” Tirnanić and roguish Blagoje “Moša” Marjanović to unite their team and win the honor of representing Yugoslavia at the World Cup. The transatlantic passage was no picnic either, entailing much seasickness. Even when they arrive, the Yugoslavian team still can’t get any respect. Expected to go one-and-out, they are booked in a divey hotel, while the rest of the field will stay at palatial resort. Nobody gives them a puncher’s chance when they draw Brazil in the first round, but since they face-off halfway through the film, it might be safe to assume they have an upset in them. However, impartial officiating goes out the window when Yugoslavia is matched up with the host nation in the semis.

The National Team’s 1930 run is still the best international showing for both Yugoslavian and Serbian football-soccer to date and it is a pretty good sports story. However, two films both clocking in with a running length of about two and a half hours hardly seems economical. Frankly, each could have easily come in under ninety minutes, but they love the all Serbian 1930 Yugoslavian team in Serbia, so Bjelogrlić takes his time.

This time around, Bjelogrlić and his co-writers Ranko Božić and Dimitrije Vojnov prospect for more laughs and pile on the subplots. Sometimes they do not make much sense, like that featuring the game Armand Assante as Hotchkins, an American looking to sign players for some sort of American soccer tour, which would have gone over like a lead balloon in depression-era America. However, Tirnanić’s romance with Dolores, a Uruguayan beauty, is rather sweet and appealing, even if her lunatic brother’s subplot to the subplot is way too over-the-top.

Regardless, Petar Strugar convincingly transitions Marjanović from dashing cad to world-weary sportsman. Assante chews scenery like he hasn’t eaten since American Gangster. It is a head-shakingly odd performance, but strangely enjoyable. Elena Martínez generates plenty of heat as Dolores and forges some respectable screen chemistry with Miloš Biković’s otherwise plodding Tirnanić. However, Branko Đurić is defiantly shticky and manipulative as Paco, a Croatian expat who befriends Mali Stanjoe, the team’s young Dickensian mascot.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the second Montevideo installment is the nostalgia for Yugoslavian identity. While the previous film often expressed pride in the team’s Serbianess, the players explicitly demand respect for Yugoslavia this time around. Despite the weirdness of Assante’s Hotchkins, the film also portrays the American team in a consistently favorable light, suggesting they were good sports, much like Jackson Scholtz in Chariots of Fire. In fact, the conclusion serves as a cool example of sportsmanship and old fashioned love of the game.

Evidently, there is even more to the team’s story that was chronicled in a companion television series. One of the smaller sports networks ought to pick-up the entire Montevideo franchise, because the sport is growing in popularity here, but 1930 still represents America’s peak World Cup performance, so far (just as it does for Yugoslavia and Serbia). It certainly deserves a wider international audience than the FIFA-bankrolled United Passions. Easily one of the most accessible films of this year’s foreign language submissions, See You in Montevideo had a special screening in Los Angeles this Monday, hosted by Deadline’s AwardsLine. Recommended for sports fans who do not mind a little sentimentality, it will screen again soon at the 2015 Palm Springs International Film Festival.