A visually breathtaking, gently comic homage to the indigenous communities that are its subject and to soccer’s power to penetrate lives, THE GREAT MATCH is set in Mongolia, Niger and the Amazon. The film is cast with non-pros, and is an attempt to explore the relationship between the most global of sports and the most isolated of communities.
Veteran Spanish documentary filmmaker Gerardo Olivares raises crucial questions concerning globalization and the information age with this lighthearted tale of three groups inhabiting isolated corners of the globe, yet all sharing the common goal of watching the 2002 World Cup finals no matter how far they must travel to do so. Germany and Brazil are about to go toe-to-toe in the biggest game on the planet, and despite the fact that they’re hundreds of miles from the nearest television, these three soccer-loving groups are determined to witness every breathtaking goal.
The Great Match (or “La Gran Final” as it is known in Spain where it was produced) is a 2006 movie that tells the adventurous story of three devoted soccer fans, about three groups of people scattered around the globe who are all trying to achieve the same difficult project: getting TV reception of the classic 2002 World Cup Final between Germany and Brazil. The protagonists in this epic adventure are a family of Mongolian nomads, a camel caravan of Tuareg in the Sahara, and a group of Indios in the Amazon. These groups, none of whom have ever met each other, but who nevertheless have two things in common: firstly, they all live in the farthest-flung corners of the planet and, secondly, they are all determined to watch the final. All living about 500 kilometers away from the next town, and the next television, their task remains a particularly daunting one.
Getting the World Cup Final on the television doesn’t sound so tough to Americans, but these people live in remote areas of the world where technology is decades behind the US. The film is really less about soccer than it is about the common threads that unite the global community.
Things open in the vast spaces of Mongolia’s Altai mountains, with a group of riders, including Dalai Khan (Shag Humar Khan) and Aldanish (Abu Aldanish), using eagles to catch a fox. After the day’s hunting, they head back to the family tent, presided over by a proverb-spouting grandmother (Zeinolda Igaza). Her words of wisdom are faithfully transcribed by Kumar Khan (Kenshleg Alen Khan).
In Niger’s Tenere desert, a caravan of camels, led by Tuareg Hassan (Attibou Aboubacar), comes across a truckload of people on their way to see the game in a nearby town. Since Hassan has a TV set, the camel drivers suggest the truck reroutes to an “iron tree” — an abandoned military installation — which will serve as an aerial. To his frustration, Mohamed (Mohamed Hassan Dit Blinde) is left alone to look after the camels.
The third, most explicitly farcical yarn, set in the relatively claustrophobic jungle, has soccer-shirt wearing tribal hunter Xama (Jenesco Kaapor) trying — and repeatedly failing, like an Amazonian Buster Keaton — to set up a TV set and an ancient dynamo in his compound to watch the game.
The scenes from the Mongolian steppes are my favorite, but overall the film serves to demonstrate once again that regardless of culture, physical location or language, guys around the world are all “wired” the same!
What made the film fantastic was the dialogue. The cultural nuances and references woven seamlessly throughout the movie kept the film incredibly fast paced. By the end, it seemed as if the viewer (me) had known the individuals and their quirks for years.
Olivares’ cinematography is brilliant. He honed his craft making documentaries for National Geographic, so it’s fair to say the best thing about The Great Match is the stunning camerawork. The film itself is surprisingly humorous, as many of the characters approach their rural existence with good-natured warmth.
The movie itself is not an original idea. The Cup earlier in 1999 had also portrayed the the same motivation among a group of Tibetan monks to watch France 1998 Final Match.