Pras on WorldFilms: THE GREAT MATCH (“La Gran Final” / Various)

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.

Great Match5

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 Great Matchnearest 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.

Great Match1Getting 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, Great Match3including 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.

Great Match2The “Great Match” is not only a spectacularly photographed film, but it offers fascinating glimpses of otherwise invisible cultures in a charmingly offbeat and engaging way.

Great Match4The 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!

Great Match6What 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.

The Great Match

 

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Pras on WorldFilms: THEEB

THEEB is a visually stunning and spellbinding Jordanian adventure film set in the farthest reaches of the Ottoman Empire in 1916. The movie is set in a period known as the Arab Theeb3Revolt, when Arab nationalists sought independence from the Ottoman Turks. The same year as “Lawrence of Arabia.”

During the first world war, a young boy in a Bedouin encampment (Jacir Eid) grows curious about the blond-haired, blue-eyed Englishman (Jack Fox, with decidedly evokes Lawrence-like  mien) who’s appeared from nowhere with a (what he believes) is a trunkful of gold.

“Theeb” is the directorial debut of Naji Abu Nowar, a British-born Oxford-educated filmmaker who grew up in Jordan. The film is an Aabic-version throwback to the westerns in the tradition of Sergio Leone. THEEB was  Jordan’s entry in the foreign language category of the 2015 Academy Awards.

Theeb5Events in history are seen through the eyes of a Bedouin child named Theeb (Jacir Eid), who has had no contact with the world outside his desert community. The young hero, played by Jacir Eid, got his name from his father, now deceased. It means “wolf” in Arabic. Coming from a family of pilgrim guides that roam the deserts on camels. Theeb, whose father has recently died, is the youngest of three sons in this family of guides. During these years, traditional Bedouin culture is being rapidly disrupted by the new railway a railway (nicknamed the Iron Donkey Trail) connecting Damascus and Medina. This would soon eliminate the need for Bedouin pilgrim guides.

The story begins in Theeb’s traditional Bedouin desert community, where, in the middle of the night, a blond British Army officer, Edward (Jack Fox), and his Arab sidekick, Marji (Marji Audeh), appear out of nowhere, seeking a well near the Ottoman train tracks. Edward has a wooden box rumored to contain gold.

Hussein (Hussein Salameh), the second-oldest of the three recently orphaned brothers, agrees to lead the party. Theeb,  instructed to stay behind is already recieving training in use of guns and how to wield a knife. He is a natural warrior who has an avid fascination with weaponry.

Theeb1Theeb, whose name means wolf, disobeys his brother and follows the men to the well, which they discover to be contaminated from slaughtered bodies thrown into it. Minutes later, they are ambushed in a canyon by a band of outlaws, and Edward and his companion are killed. Hussein and Theeb abandon their camel and flee to higher ground, but the next day, Hussein is shot before Theeb’s eyes, leaving the younger boy unarmed and alone, to brave the elements and the Arabic equivalent of the Wild West.

Theeb4More than style, though, it’s the substance of “Theeb” that’s memorable. The story of a Bedouin Boy’s Brutal Coming-of-Age whose nomadic way of life is threatened by war raging across the Ottoman Empire. THEEB, as a Bedouin-western film features the wide-open spaces of Jordan, the locations are as awe-inspiring in their breadth and aridity as the vistas. The film’s acute sense of this unforgiving environment is underscored by a soundtrack in which gunfire and voices ricochet eerily through the spiky canyons and arid mountain passes. Theeb is continually brushing off bugs.

Theeb2He learns about guns, dangerous strangers and the need to make strategic alliances with one’s enemies. Every Bedouin character, huddling round campfire games and slaughtering sheep, is played by a real-life tribesman. However the film isn’t political or anti-colonial in a conventional sense, but it plays out at a time when, as the boy is told (by a particularly dangerous stranger who is also a pilgrim guide), the railroad and what it brings is destroying Bedouin culture to the point of brother killing brother. Theeb himself is a pilgrim, searching for brotherhood in a bewildering world of sand lashed by relentless winds.