Why you should care
Sometimes the stars align to optimize absurdity.
Like a puny, $29 million anti-missile launched against incoming warheads about to blow a Zurich-sized hole in the Earth’s crust, United Passions — the auteur opus of former FIFA chief Sepp Blatter — soared onto movie screens a week ago.
Living as I do in the kind of modern Gomorrah that FIFA’s been trying to build all over the world for half a century, I had only to travel to North Hollywood to catch a screening. As it was Friday night, I was awash in the big existential questions: Is this it? Why am I here? I remembered all the narcotics interventions and baptismal regenerations and thought to myself, “You are not alone.” And I wasn’t. Not quite.
Because on this Friday night in Los Angeles, a throng of two real, live humans — whom I can only assume were sports journalists, masochists or insane — joined me for a celluloid stroll through 110 years of the global game. And for once, football wasn’t the winner. We were.
The breakout star of the film —
a digitally aged CGI Dr. Strangelove the human race soccer megalomania the small popcorn I had bought at the concession stand, which United Passions thespian Gérard Depardieu has been known to mainline with the glassy-eyed zest of the opium zombie he more or less plays on screen — turned in a performance as satisfying as it was buttery.
Shame about the movie.
I could bore you with details, such as what actually happened in two hours of cack-handed storytelling that grafts elements of Tommy Boy onto a Hindenburg documentary, but you can get a thorough plot synopsis elsewhere. That said, for a film with zero dramatic stakes, United Passions is not without its moments.
João Havelange to the FIFA executive committee — our first look at newly appointed, plaid trash-bag-as-suit wearer Sepp Blatter:
HAVELANGE: Our accounts are a disgrace. We need money. Find it!
A beat. Crickets chirp. Wind breaks.
HAVELANGE (CONT’D): Oh … right. Blatter here … Blatter will number 12 in our little group. Blatter’s supposed to be good at finding money. Let us hope so.
Blatter and Havelange on Argentina ’78, a(nother) World Cup hosted as a propaganda exercise by a ruling military junta:
BLATTER: Sir, the sponsors are nervous. There are human rights violations.
HAVELANGE: These events that take place so far from Europe … the intellectuals can protest with their flags and their banners … but who cares? Football brings consolation to all tragedies and sorrows.
Blatter to his FIFA executive committee on Japan/South Korea ’02:
BLATTER: The slightest breach of ethics will be severely punished. I’m warning you. All of you. We play by my rules now.
I stopped taking notes after a while — the film is a Russian doll of ever escalating gaffes and miscalculations, and is seemingly interested in but two things: exhaustively detailing the hotel and travel arrangements for FIFA executives since 1930, and making sure that everyone who leaves the theater is absolutely crystal clear in the knowledge that the English are ignorant, self-aggrandizing, pathetic weasels.
Oh, and what weasels they are. Clownish and impotent, they spend just about all of United Passion ’s 120-minute running time wiping the shit from their mustaches with an Adidas towel. The one moment they actually do get their own backs — World Cup ’66 — is eclipsed almost entirely from the film. In its place, we watch as helmet-haired MODs gyrate spastically in celebratory reverie outside a television repair shop, and as Roger Daltrey shrieks the lyrics to “Substitute,” deposits the royalty check and goes for a pint. It’s as incoherent as it sounds.
It’s all semantics at this point. Sure, United Passions is a movie driven as much by the 16 million pounds collected in a paper bag whip-round at the last FIFA summit — the film began to earn its keep with its first U.S. weekend haul of $607 — as by hubris. But see the good in United Passions , see the good in Blatter. Like a sweatier Megan Ellison, he’s birthed what can honestly be called an independent feature in a world that’s overtly hostile to the very notion of independent film. So cheers to Sepp. Cheers to FIFA. And get ready to update your Netflix queue.