Why did I do this myself? Well, mostly because I get paid. But will I ever get back those 100 minutes I watched, — taking notes and trying to engage with every aesthetic and storytelling decision? I could’ve done something more edifying for myself, like watching porn. Or Criminal Minds, I mean, that show is way dumber than it thinks it is, but at least it’s fun. Because it’s movies like United Passions that make us reflect on why we watch shitty movies. And not the good kind of bad, like The Room or Dude, Where’s My Car? or Gerald Butler’s oeuvre. I’m talking about movies that are bad for humanity.
A recap: United Passions is a 2014 piece of propaganda, bought and paid by FIFA to the tune of $27 million, with the Azerbaijani government chipping in $5 million for some reason. The movie tells the story of FIFA’s founding at the dawn of the 20th Century, the organization of the first World Cups, and then fast-forwards into the 1970s and onwards, to show What a Great Job FIFA Has Done For Humanity Expanding the Reach of The Beautiful Game Despite Some Mistakes We Made On The Way. A movie about football in which the heroes are the executives. I say “heroes,” because that’s how it frames them. It never saw a wide release in football countries and the US; it saw a limited release just as FIFA-gate blew up, turning in one of the lowest box office weekends in history. You might’ve heard of this movie via John Oliver’s coverage of FIFA’s shenanigans:
I heard about this movie eight years ago, and ever since, I knew I had to watch it and review, aping a certain comedic movie critic that, I am embarrassed to admit, I was a fan of. Every year, hundreds of movies are made where everyone involved is looking to cash in, and nobody above the line is doing the bare minimum effort to show their work. But before the Netflix era, those movies would usually be straight-to-DVD Steven Segal actioners, not $32 million historical dramas starring heavyweights like Gérard Depardieu, Tim Roth, or Sam Neill. Then again, Depardieu hasn’t done anything dignified since the early 2000s.
In theory, there’s no reason a fictionalized account of FIFA’s history, centered on its executives, would need to be boring. Said account exists, and it’s called El Presidente: Corruption Game. Similarly, there is no reason why a propaganda film can’t be enthralling: Some of the greatest films in history were propaganda, like Eisenstein’s oeuvre. And then there are all the propaganda films that I guess are important because they came up with super inventive stuff like stitching scenes together or digging holes for the camera so it can have a more dramatic angle. United Passions is neither of those. United Passions has all the charisma of the lowest-ranking C-suite exec doing a roast at a retreat. United Passions has all the pacing and wit of a Netflix teenage drama (you know, the kind that waste 10 minutes with the characters texting each other in their rooms). United Passions has performances and dialogues that can only be described as equal to those videos they show at the office Christmas party. United Passions has all the production value you would expect from a budget where 80 percent was skimmed off the top in bribes and laundering. And yet still, United Passions is a propaganda movie. An evil propaganda movie, one commissioned by a very specific group of people for themselves and themselves only: FIFA’s executive committee and one Joseph Blatter.
I’m tempted to paste here the notes I took and be done with them. I’m pretty much sure I wrote things that would get me canceled, so let’s be professional: United Passions opens with a group of children playing a match in some random post-Soviet city. For some reason, the kids speak English, but whatever. One of the goal-ends is a girl, because this movie will hammer in the point, repeatedly, that Girls Can Also Play Football Too and FIFA Cares Very Much About Women’s Football. The problem is that the goalie girl sucks as a goalie, and throughout the match — which is interspersed across the running time to separate periods in the main narrative — she will eat two goals.
The first act focuses on FIFA’s inception in 1905, back when football was already the World’s Game but mostly amateur. In a scattered succession of events, the Continental Europeans (played by Fisher Stevens and Serge Hazanavicius) proposal of an international association is dismissed by snooty British lords, so they start their football association with blackjack and hookers. That’s it. That’s all that happens, just drunken, fat-cat Europeans founding an organization that no one cared about for the next generation. But that’s good enough for the film to drop triumphant music. Over. And over. And over. And over again. Every inane moment where something is achieved and FIFA wants to take the credit, they cue in the same, generic triumphant score.
The film skips to the late 1920s, during Jules Rimet’s era (played by an actually engaged Gérard Depardieu). This act is all about the organization of the first-ever world cup in Uruguay, and the scenes where they probably spent most of the budget not allocated for laundering and bribes. It looks good, a step above Downton Abbey … but these are the 20s, and somehow, everything looks Belle Ã‰poque for some reason. This entire act is even more unbalanced than the previous one. After the scenes set in Uruguay 1930, they skip straight to 1936, skipping everything about Italy 1934 — you know, the one Mussolini turned into a celebration of fascism. Depardieu’s Rimet mentions it, as a regret, because Rimet here is portrayed as a man so ahead of his time he would’ve voted for the pro-Dreyfuss camp a third time if he could.
In fact, at every time this movie tries to remind us that the Continental European FIFA leaders were a progressive, non-prejudiced bunch, while the English football executives were a bunch of racist, sexist and classist c*nts. While they are right about the latter, let’s not pretend Rimet was horrified at Mussolini’s fascism. That cat just began the tradition of FIFA kowtowing to the worst humanity has to offer if they can underwrite them. The movie progresses through the war, with the execs lamenting the fact that people had their focus on things other than the Beautiful Game, like Stalingrad. Eventually, we arrive to the first post-war World Cup, Brazil 1950 (Rimet’s last). And because whoever wrote this is a cruel mofo, they devote the whole section to the MaraÃ§anazo, Brazil’s National Trauma, apparently in efforts to shoehorn a point about how football is also about pain and shared suffering, in contrast to scenes where random people celebrate their teams winning.
The third and fourth acts are devoted to the reigns of JoÃ£o Havelange (Sam Neill, barely there) and Sepp Blatter (Tim Roth, looking for exit doors in every frame), and this is when the movie goes full propaganda in ways that can only be described with gross sexual metaphors. Both men are depicted as the Most Hard Working, Most Results-Oriented, Most Selfless, and Undeniable Saviors of Football even if they had to … compromise now and then. Because every deal they close to move ahead, every business coup they nab with major corporations, everything they do, they Do It In The Name Of Football and it’s portrayed as just two cunning men Revolutionizing the Sport for the Modern World and Spreading Its Reach. Did I mention how exceedingly dull this movie is? Because this is the dullest part of all, and you don’t even have pretty 1920s cars to look at. Every scene with Havelange and Blatter is one where the former gives long-winded monologues Full of Practical Wisdom to his protégé, the kind of practical wisdom you need to explain away things like letting yet another fascist dictatorship host the World Cup. Because you see, and this is textual from the movie, Football is the Great Consolation people can aspire to.
A Blatter is a protégé that Works Very Hard to bring FIFA’s finances in order, even Paying From His Own Pocket the salaries of FIFA’s employees, even if that would get him into trouble with auditors. Everything they did to keep themselves in power (at the time of the movie’s release, Blatter was still the president) is just virtuous political maneuvering. In fact, this is the tone with which the movie shows every scene where Important and Resourceful Men establish deals For the Future of Football. Don’t you dare think there any bribes involved. I counted at least two Men In Action Doing Important Things throughout the latter two acts, in which the director somehow tried to make something compelling from random pick-up shots of men in suits talking with other men in suits… suddenly interrupted by a shot of Blatter standing near the casket of his partner in bribes, Horst Dassler. I cannot even begin to pick apart the incompetence of this thing. But honestly, the amateurism and incompetence in its direction and writing are exactly what it deserves.
The film ends with Blatter announcing South Africa as the hosts of World Cup 2010 using the actual footage, with Tim Roth digitally inserted in Forrest Gump-style, because even this movie is to embarrassed to show Blatter’s actual creepy face. In one of the many failed thematic threads the movie is too bored to weave, this is supposed to be a fitting conclusion to FIFA’s self-professed myth of being at the forefront of anti-racism and support for developing countries. Though honestly, Nancy Pelosi kneeling and wearing a kentes were more sincerely anti-racist than anything FIFA has ever done. As for the money they send in support of developing countries, where it ends up is of no concern to them.
Oh, I forgot to mention, the goalie-girl from the opening scenes manages to stop a ball, and dribbles it to the other side on her own, Maradona-style, to score a Golden Goal while one of the Continental Europeans from the early 20th Century begins waxing poetical about everything FIFA has achieved.
No, you didn’t. This game would’ve thrived with or without them.
I’ve said it several times in the previous articles, but it bears repeating: Sepp Blatter and FIFA’s execs are the very definition of the post-war banality of evil. And just like them, this movie is banally evil. A waste of tens of millions of dollars so a group of terrible people could portray themselves in the best light possible, even when they knew damn well this movie would become a laughing stock (again, part of the incentive is that they laundered and skimmed off of the budget). With this movie, which could’ve funded a whole-ass stadium or hundreds of man-hours in Football schools, FIFA demonstrated the contempt they have for this game. It’s just no longer funny, it’s just corruption spat right into our faces.