Given current investigations into corruption at the highest levels of FIFA, perhaps last week was not the greatest moment to open a $29 million feature length dramatic film about world soccer’s governing body (one the Los Angeles Times reports took in all of $600 at the U.S. box office last week). Despite (?) an all-star cast of Gerard Dépardieu, Tim Roth, Sam Neill and Fisher Stevens (ok, there’s 3 stars already), The Guardian’s Jordan Hoffman suggests “United Passions” probably won’t find an audience on VOD or Blu-Ray, calling it “as cinema it is excrement” (“less a movie than preposterous self-hagiography, more appropriate for Scientology or the Rev Sun Myung Moon”).
João Havelange (Sam Neill) is presented as a master of realpolitik. There are implications of corruption under his regime, but he was wise and warm-hearted enough to recognise that Latin America, Asia and Africa were the future of soccer. “We’ve done more for black people than all the UN resolutions!” he bellows, without a hint of irony. He also makes a key hire: Switzerland’s Sepp Blatter (Tim Roth). Welcoming Blatter to his first boardroom meeting Havelange wryly notes “he is apparently good at finding money”.
The stretch of the film in which we’re to groove on “Blatter doin’ work” is, and I swear I’m not making this up, a series of meetings in which he lands big-ticket sponsorship deals. The camera dwells lovingly on a trunk full of Adidas products. The big “we did it” is a phone call Blatter makes to Havelange (in his private pool overlooking the ocean), announcing interest from Coca-Cola. None of this is done through a Mad Men-like lens. This is pure corporate pamphleteering. The final act concerns virtuous Blatter winning a re-election despite having “enemies” elsewhere on the board. Did I say corporate pamphleteering? More like Stalinist propaganda.