The World Cup is barely a month away. Before all eyes turn to Brazil on June 12th, the Los Angeles Goethe-Institut is running ‘Soccer Still Rules!’, a series of German films that come at the phenomenon of soccer — Fussball,* that is — from an impressively wide number of angles, in documentaries and broad comedies alike.
Given the sport’s inescapable presence in German culture today, it’s not surprising that German-language filmmakers would use “the beautiful game” as a basis to examine the divides between cultures, the state of the former East Germany, the battle between the sexes, and even what it means to be European. That’s not to say these movies are overtly intellectual, just that soccer’s immeasurable popularity no doubt makes it an irresistible point-of-entry for filmmakers wanting to dramatize thorny issues in populist terms.
Case in point: the award-winning 2008 documentary Soccer Undercover (screening May 14th) follows a girls’ team from Berlin to Tehran, where they play a ‘friendly’ against the Iranian national women’s team…who had never played in an official match until then. Men weren’t allowed to be spectators at the game.
The 2002 comedy Liberated Zone (playing May 21st) looks at the impact an African player has on an economically depressed town in the former East Germany when he joins the local soccer team. What do you bet he stands out in that environment?
One of the most intriguing entries in the Goethe-Institut’s series is One Day in Europe (2005), which intercuts the simultaneous misadventures of tourists in Berlin, Moscow, Istanbul and Santiago de Compostela as the same Champions League final plays in the background of each story. Current events in Ukraine and Russia cast the movie in an unexpected light: Is Russia part of Europe?
Fittingly, the series ends on June 11th — one day before the World Cup begins — with The Miracle of Bern, which sets the fictional story of a former German soldier returning home in 1954 after years as a POW in the Soviet Union against the real-life ‘Miracle of Bern,’ in which the underdog West German team came from two goals down to defeat a Hungarian team with a 32-0 record, thereby winning the World Cup championship. (Yes, the Germans were once considered underdogs in a Cup match.)
It’s hard to overstate the significance this game had for Germany: historian Joachim Fest called it “the true birth” of West Germany, as a demoralized, inhibited populace burst into euphoria over the victory. Perhaps it’s no surprise that The Miracle of Bern was a commercial hit and won various film awards in Germany.
This Goethe-Institut series suggests some telling cultural differences between the land of Dichter und Denker and the U.S. No one would dispute that the Super Bowl is a cultural behemoth in America, one that seems to swell with more commercial significance every year, yet you’d be hard pressed to schedule a seven-week series of features and documentaries that use the Super Bowl or the NFL as the starting point for any kind of social commentary.
The films in the “Soccer Still Rules!” series should be an entertaining but also thoughtful way to gear up for the World Cup. Perhaps in the future this lineup of films could be augmented by a documentary — by a German filmmaker, or a Brazilian director, or anyone — examining the Cup organizer FIFA, and/or the street protests in Brazil that have reflected the ambivalence of the public there about the event.
COMPLETE SCHEDULE: All films subtitled in English.
All films start at 7:00 p.m. Admission is FREE.
Wed., May 7th 2014
FC Venus – Women with Balls
Dir. Ute Wieland, Germany, 2006, 99 min.
Wed., May 14th 2014
Dir. Ayat Najafi, David Assmann, Germany, 2006/8, 89 min.
Wed., May 21st 2014
Liberated Zone (a.k.a. Befreite Zone)
Dir. Norbert Baumgarten, Germany, 2002, 93 min.
Wed., May 28th 2014
A Pass from the Back (a.k.a. Aus der Tiefe des Raumes)
Dir. Gil Mehnert, Germany, 2004, 88 min.
Wed., June 4th 2014
One Day in Europe
Dir. Hannes Stoehr, Germany, 2005, 100 min.
Wed., June 11th 2014
The Miracle of Bern (a.k.a. Das Wunder von Bern)
Dir. Sönke Wortmann, Germany, 2003, 118 min.