Some movies are made with the care and passion to ensure that, even if they have some weak elements, they’ll at least have some sort of heart. And some movies are money laundering schemes. Yeah…
United Passions tells the story of the founding and development of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. It does so by having actors recreate events in FIFA history. You may be wondering (considering the use of historical footage and shots of actual newspaper clippings throughout the film) why this wasn’t just made as a documentary. Uh…
(Spoilers Ahead, but this movie sucks so don’t worry about it. I’m going to review the plot in great detail just to convey how painstakingly boring and drawn out this movie is.)
The movie opens in 1902. Some Dutch guy named Hirschmann writes a letter to a bunch of other guys asking them to create a central organization of soccer to promote world peace or something. Two years later, they go to England to try and convince the Brits to join their League. When the British (all of whom are depicted as cocky racists in this movie) turn them down, our main characters try to blackmail them into joining by saying that they will be excluded from all international football events if they don’t.
Finally, about twenty minutes in, we’re introduced to the movie’s “main character,” Jules Rimet. Rimet carries the plot through 30 years’ worth of time skips, serving as the lens through which we are acquainted with the “hardships” that FIFA faces.
Hardship 1: The Great Depression. FIFA… loses some money in the stock market. That’s it.
Hardship 2: The rise of Hitler and Mussolini. Rimet has an argument with FIFA representatives from Italy and Germany. Once. During a friendly dinner. And it’s quickly defused.
Hardship 3: World War 2. We get a scene of Rimet and some other FIFA guys talking about the “Death match” (a soccer game between an occupied Ukrainian team and the German team FC Start), which is overlayed with some annoying recreations of the game fading in and out of the scene. I guess this story is supposed to be inspiring… but it isn’t.
The movie spends ten minutes showcasing some random World Cup final game between Brazil and Uruguay. This part is supposed to be exciting, but considering it’s a soccer match that happened 50+ years ago it’s hard to care. Brazil loses which I guess is supposed to be upsetting? (Why we should be rooting for them is not explained). Rimet is also sad about this, which, given that he’s French, doesn’t really make sense, but whatever.
Fast forward to Rimet’s funeral. We are barely halfway through this movie and the main character is dead (not that I blame him, I would’ve liked to die around this part too). FIFA is now under the leadership of some British guy named Stanley Rous who, in an unsurprising turn of events, is a huge asshole. We get a scene of him on a plane talking to a Brazilian guy named Havelange, who is on the Olympic committee but wants to join FIFA. Rous tells him not to join FIFA because he doesn’t like minorities or something (cause he’s racist, get it?), which Havelange takes offense to (wonder why…). I find Rous’s character interesting, because he’s the only member of FIFA in United Passions that isn’t an upstanding bastion of moral righteousness and actually has flaws. Granted, he’s basically just a caricature of an old, racist British guy, so I wouldn’t exactly call his inclusion nuanced, but he does add a smidge of uh… balance?
Havelange schemes with some African representatives to get himself in power, and is made FIFA president at the next election. At this point FIFA is doing fine except they don’t have enough money. So they hire a watchmaker named Sepp Blatter to get them sponsorships (why they do this is not explained). In case you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Blatter, he was the president of FIFA at the time that this movie was made. Because this character is the producer’s self-insert, we can be sure that he will be a complex, realistic person who makes mistakes and learns from them.
Blatt-man goes around getting some sponsorship deals for FIFA. While I’m sure all of this is historically accurate, it’s also a convenient time to throw in some product placement. At one point, we actually get a shot of a car’s trunk filled with Adidas™ merchandise.
At this point in the movie, there’s a switch from it being about the greatness of FIFA to the greatness of Sepp. First, Sepp Blatter personally pays 200,000 Francs (About 286k USD adjusted for inflation) to FIFA staff because the organization is out of money (again). He then holds a meeting of the FIFA council? And tells them to stop taking bribes because bribes are bad. Then, Sepp Blatter’s wonderful loving family (which he has because he’s a really good person) throws a party, but he can’t enjoy it because he has to deal with FIFA-related problems. Then, Sepp Blatter’s haters in FIFA tell Sepp Blatter that he should step down because they don’t like Sepp Blatter. Sepp Blatter, being the amazing, humble, fantastic guy that he is, decides to dab on them instead (he don’t mess around) and goes for re-election at the next FIFA conference.
This scene is supposed to be tense because I guess we don’t know the outcome? (I mean, we do, but this movie thinks we don’t). The issue here is that the stakes are so low that it doesn’t really matter what happens. Worst case scenario, Sepp loses re-election and isn’t FIFA president anymore. Like, this movie skipped over WWII, but wants us to care about this. Anyway it doesn’t matter because Sepp does win and also forgives all his haters because Sepp is a gracious, forgiving guy.
Anyway, there’s this voice over narration by Hirschmann talking about how great soccer is and how he would’ve been proud to see its development over time if he were still alive. The movie ends with Sepp announcing that the 2010 World Cup will be held in South Africa, which prompts a bunch of black actors in the crowd to pretend to be really excited about what a revolutionary development this is. So I guess in the end, Sepp defeated racism?
Many movies use what I call “models” (as opposed to these models). These are characters that don’t really have a personality or any complex motivations, but rather exist simply to represent a certain trait or theme. For instance, most Marvel villains (with the exception of say, Loki) are just “bad guys” whose sole purpose is to create conflict and have the main superhero defeat them. Generally, the use of this type of character is evidence of lazy writing, but having one or two of them in a movie can be fine if done right.
United Passions foregoes pretty much any semblance of realistic characters and saturates itself with thinly veiled concepts masquerading as people. Hirschmann, Rimet, Havelange, and of course, Sepp Blatter, all serve as FIFA’s poster boys, while the “villains” in this movie (read: British) serve as basic foils. Rimet’s daughter, too, is basically just there to be his cheerleader, even though the movie tries to convince us that she’s a strong female role because she talks back to a few guys. (Speaking of feminism, this movie happens to fail the Bechdel test). Pretty much every attempt United Passions makes to have complex characters falls flat.
While it’s sort of fine to have a lot of these characters in a movie if the characterization takes a back seat to the plot (which, you could argue, is the case here), it’s sort of insulting that they took this route considering all of the characters depicted are real people. They basically took names and likenesses and used them as mouthpieces to support their own agenda.
The acting in this movie is okay, although I wouldn’t consider “old european executive” a particularly hard role to pin down. Particularly decent performances are given by Tim Roth (who played Sepp Blatter), and Gerard Depardieu (Who played Jules Rimet). Nothing Oscar-worthy, but at least better than the 2.1/10 this movie currently has on IMDB.
The dialogue in this movie is so on the nose that I actually invented a game to play while watching it. It’s called the United Passions game, and I think the title is about as original and exciting as the film itself. Here’s how it works: write a bunch of character traits on notecards and pass them around. For the duration of the game, you’re only allowed to say things that reflect that specific trait. So if you got the “really cool guy” card, you would be limited to, “Hi, my name is Sepp Blatter.”
This movie is so self-involved and oblivious that it actually thinks it’s well written. The “rousing” speeches (such as those seen early-on in the movie supporting the regulation of soccer protocols) given by the characters are met uniformly with positive responses, as if what was said was genuinely inspiring.
The various “villain” characters in this movie speak as if the director told them, “you have 15 seconds to sound as unlikable as possible. Go!” For example, at one point when Rimet and his daughter are on a boat, they meet some guy (British, of course) who expresses his distaste for Africans playing soccer, because they’re like savages I guess? After Rimet’s daughter argues with him, this character actually says the following lines to her father: “You should send her back to housekeeping and sewing. Her pretty little head would be filled with less nonsense.” This character is racist and sexist for literally no reason other than so after his little tirade Rimet can call him out for being a bad guy and not representing FIFA’s values, or something.
Sepp Blatter’s character stands out as especially poorly written. Every bit of dialogue and interaction he has is done to make him as likable and relatable as possible. At one point, someone tells Sepp that “they’re dragging your name through the mud,” and Sepp responds with, “I grew up on a farm. I have no fear of mud.” There’s also a scene of him walking through his office building and saying hi to a janitor (by name!). These scenes add nothing to the movie other than to make Sepp look like a really good guy.
Also, while the acting in the movie is, for the most part, not bad, the dialogue (especially in the first part of the movie) is delivered in a mind-numbingly slow way, mainly due to the various foreign actors having to say all their lines in English. Gerard Depardieu, specifically, delivers all of his lines incredibly slowly. Everything is so protracted that having American actors read through this script probably would’ve shaved at least ten minutes off the runtime.
Appeal to filmmakers: If you have foreign actors in your movie, don’t make them speak English solely for the audience’s benefit. If it makes sense for them to talk in their native language, it’s better to have grammatically correct subtitles than broken English.
United Passions alternates between two tones: the 😰 emoji, and the 😇 emoji. For most of the movie, things are going well, so it’s more cheery and lighthearted. During the points where some conflict arises (you know, to make the movie interesting), the tone of becomes dark. Not too dark, of course, we wouldn’t want FIFA to be cast in a negative light (like ever), but there are definitely some visible shifts. Usually at these point the lighting dims, the music becomes more somber or tense, and sometimes even the weather changes to reflect the characters’ emotions (something something pathetic fallacy).
Now look, the basic premise of problem → resolution → problem, etc. is not inherently flawed. (Silicon Valley did it for four seasons!) The issue is that the conflicts this movie presents are so mundane, so profoundly uninspiring, that despite the atmospheric shifts that it employs to represent some sort of emotion, it doesn’t work.
Not only that, but when a movie uses too many tonal shifts, it becomes tired and boring. Plot resolutions are like jump scares. When you use them sparingly, the sudden change in tension/emotion/mood can have a fairly profound effect. When you have one every ten seconds, your movie becomes Five Nights at Freddy’s. Don’t be Five Nights and Freddy’s.
(Actual picture of Sepp Blatter):
This movie is surprisingly well-shot, given its failings in other areas. Near the beginning of the movie, it’s basically just a series of boring camera angles which work ok with the dialogue-heavy scenes (which are most of them).
There is one specific scene, however, which has some of the worst, moat overdone, most unnecessary editing that I have ever seen in a movie. Sepp is sitting in his boardroom arguing with other members, and there’s like five cameras in the room: one pointed at Sepp, one kind of pointed at him but closer and angled upward, one pointing at a guy to his right, one pointing at a guy to his left, and a wide shot. During this scene, there are 39 (I counted) different cuts used in the span of under two minutes. But of course, quick cuts show tension and fervent dialogue, so they had to put as many of them as humanly possible in this movie.
Most of the movie was very bright, presumably to paint FIFA in a good light. (A bit too much good light if you ask me):
Also, the colors in this movie were all very saturated, making the shots just as bland as the story.
The sound in this movie is done pretty well. The dialogue is pretty much always clear and discernible, which is pretty much the only thing that matters.
The score is fine (albeit pretty boring), including a series of pleasant melodies as background accompaniment to some dialogue or transition scenes, as well as some period pieces to establish time and place.
One particularly obnoxious element of the soundtrack is the use of dramatic music in the background of boring and uneventful scenes to try and add some “weight” to them. Not like Gerard Depardieu doesn’t add enough weight already- HEY-OO! (Sorry Gerard)
United Passions tells the long winded and largely uninteresting story of FIFA’s establishment and operation in twice the time, four times the effort, and sixteen times the budget of a documentary on the same topic. I would call this movie propaganda, but if anything, it’s the opposite. Propaganda at least draws on emotional appeals to make the audience sympathize with its cause; United Passions is so mundane and uneventful that it actually made me like FIFA less. However, if want a movie to tell you how to feel about Sepp Blatter, this is the one. Personally, I’m Jewish, but if I were to convert, it would be to the Church of the Blatter Day Saints. Anyway, if you’re looking for a movie to watch, please, do yourself a favor, and get the better “UP.”
Good for: Sepp Blatter, Adidas™
Bad for: Every person not associated with FIFA, the Internal Revenue Service
Bod R8s: 1.2/8