In his 2015 docufilm Una Meravigliosa Stagione Fallimentare, Director Mario Bucci creates a remarkable homage to his home club, located in the city of Bari on the southeast coast of Italy. The charm of this film comes from the innocent appeal of the players. There are also the tongue-in-cheek presentations of the kit men and the people who pull the strings. And, you are buoyed by the fans, the city, and its people as enthusiasm builds behind a team that should be hopeless.
It all makes an uplifting story of a team and a movement that create joy from bankruptcy and A Wonderful Season of Failure (the English title).
The film covers the 2013-2014 season of AC Bari, who play in Serie B, Italy’s second division league. Bari had once been in Serie A, but had fallen from grace in the match-fixing scandal of 2012. Their long-time owners, the Mataresse family, had mounting debt and was letting the team slide.
The coaching staff quits in pre-season, and a new staff comes in to manage a team that has been cobbled together. For half the season, Bari struggles in the relegation zone. Less than a thousand attend games in the Stadio San Nicola, which was built by the Matarreses and designed by Renzo Piano to host 60,000 for WC 1990.
Things begin to change when the Matarrese family finally declare AC Bari bankrupt. There is no money to travel, and players have to pay for their own uniforms. A player’s registration is foreclosed upon. But the handsome midfielder Daniele Sciaudone starts #compratelabari (Buy Bari) a social media campaign that goes viral. 25,000 fans return to the stadium.
As Bari FC starts to win and climbs the table, the club goes through multiple auctions in municipal court. Finally, referee Gianluca Paparesta, backed by a mysterious consortium, steps up to buy the team. Boosted by the fans, the club fights its way to the league final to play for promotion back to Serie A.
What makes this film so good
Director Bucci provides some scripted touches that set the tone of his documentary. A small girl (representing the forlorn fans) and a mascot in a weary cockerel costume pop in and out of the story, adding a little incongruous levity.
A picture of the community is painted: “they eat bread and football here“. Interviews with townspeople and merchants show they are affected by the bankruptcy and yet take it all in stride. Although there are many interviews, they are conducted in a way that it doesn’t feel like the talking heads in so many other sports documentaries.
The viral campaign is depicted in a very clever way, and the players’ honesty is a joy to listen to. Even a player who was banned for match-fixing supports the team from the stands.
The crowds are fantastic, and on away games, the fans fill the town plaza to watch on a big screen. The happiness and good times of “il priscio” are in full swing. The fan support is all quite shocking when you remember that this is a second division team.
The film has a lot of game footage, mostly of the goals and celebrations. Many times, soccer movies get tedious in showing the climb to the top or bottom. But Director Bucci crafts the scenes together in a way that is so entertaining you don’t realize how much soccer you’ve watched.
Although the sporting director and team manager are interviewed quite a bit, noticeably absent from the film are any interviews with the coaches or the new owner, so there is never any clue as to what made the team play better, other than the addition of the fans. And, none of the supporters are interviewed in depth. Fans are essentially observed from a distance, or for a few shots, and are mostly presented as a mass of people.
Since the story behind the film is already 7 years old, I was curious what happened to Bari. I discovered that it is very hard to find information about Italian football if you don’t speak Italian (although my BigSoccer friend falvo helped me out!). It appears that by 2016, FC Bari 1908 was sold to Cosmo Antonio Giancaspro. But in 2018, he was arrested for fraud, and while he was in jail, Bari went into bankruptcy again and was relegated to Serie D. In Aug-2018, Aurelio De Laurentiis, who already owned Napoli, took over Bari as his second club.
It seems that Director Bucci, obviously quite a fan of the club, has moved on to filming other sports. Reading up on the money-laundering history of Italian football, I would be reluctant to follow a league and country where corruption is endemic. Which is a shame, because Italian football is so passionate. For a great Italian football comedy, check out L’Arbitro
9 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 9
- Released: 2015-01-29 (Italy)
- In Italian with English sub-titles
- Italian title is Una Meravigliosa Stagione Fallimentare
- Literal translation is “a wonderful bankruptcy season”
- English title is A Wonderful Season of Failure
- I watched this on Amazon Prime where the title was A Wonderful Unsuccessful Season
- 88 minutes
- Director: Mario Bucci
- Stars: Daniele Sciaudone , Team Captain Marino Defendi
- Watch the Trailer in English or in Italian