Comme des Garçons is the first feature film from Writer-Director Julien Hallard, and it is quite an achievement. Also known as Let the Girls Play, this soccer movie is cute, smart, and well worth watching. While it takes a number of liberties with the true story of the renaissance of women’s football in France, it does so to create a feel-good film with carefully crafted and entertaining contours.
In the film, a self-centered sportswriter Paul Coutard (Max Boublil) is paired up with the newspaper’s secretary, Emmanuelle (Vanessa Guide). To create a festival event, he comes up with the outlandish idea to host a female football game in Reims stadium. As a side benefit, it will increase his opportunities to womanize.
But why is the idea of women’s football outlandish? Because in 1969, it has been 50 years that women have been banned from playing football in France, as it would expose their bodies to prurient male viewers.
It turns out that Emmanuelle is quite the footballer, and her ability both changes and enamors Paul. The story is equally about Paul’s growth as both a coach and a sort of sports feminist, and the players’ growth as they embrace the game, teamwork, and their opportunity to rise above traditional women’s roles. He convinces Emmanuelle,
“On va changer les mentalités.”
The story approaches all topics in an easy, comedic way. The women have no place to play and challenge Reims’ youth team for use of the pitch. Women can’t play without their husbands’ written permission, which Coach Paul dutifully procures. Conservative outcry confronts the female footballers. In trying to get Federation approval and funding, Emmanuelle finds her voice. But at the moment of the team’s possible step up to acceptance, Paul’s womanizing comes back to haunt them.
As mentioned above, Comme des Garçons is a feature film inspired by but not adherent to the facts. In real life, journalist Pierre Geoffroy put a team together, played an international game representing France, and only after the match did the Federation officially recognize the team. Geoffroy went on to become the official national team coach, and he did marry one of his players, Maryse Lesieur, 20 years his junior. But all the characters in the film are fictional versions or an amalgam of real individuals. Director Hallard said he met the original players and was struck by their love of the game.
Where feminism is lacking
Some parts of the film are a little incongruous with feminism. I wondered why the team’s chant is “crampons nichons”, which the sub-titles translate as “boots and boobs”. I found other translations of these words as “cleats & tits”. Either way, I can’t imagine any self-respecting women’s team chanting such a thing.
I also found some French reviews that pointed out that the name Coutard could be a play on the French word que*t*rd, which is slang for a very horny guy. And I probably don’t have to tell American cinema fans the unfortunate downside of naming the secretary Emmanuelle. Maybe that is all French humor, but I apologize if any American feminists feel I misled them by giving this film such a positive review. I was able to forgive these little offenses.
The soccer in the film is mostly at a recreational level. The ending credits show footage from actual games.
The fight continues
We can laugh about this film’s story today because we know the outcome. Women’s World Cup 2019 is being held in France, with games hosted in Reims, the resurrection birthplace of French women’s football.
But the truth is that there are many countries where women continue to face the issues in this film, and with more serious, even life-threatening barriers. Even in the USA, Womens soccer is struggling because of the lack of real gender parity inside of USSoccer.
So I encourage you all to watch this film and laugh with it, but remember that the world and FIFA have much further to go to change the mentality. The battle for women’s rights in football is still just beginning.
8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8