Fintar o Destino (1998) is a beautiful time capsule

Fintar o Destino (1998) 
aka Dribbling Fate

Fintar o Destino is a strikingly beautiful film, but not at all in a visual sense. Filmed in standard definition, the story immerses you in Cape Verdean village life and the regrets of Mané (Carlos Germano), a frustrated 50 year old former footballer. He didn’t leave the island when he had the chance, and to defy the taunt of a friend, he uses all his savings to try and recoup his dignity.

Filmed at a time when Cape Verde was just becoming a democracy, Mané’s village is poor but friendly. He trains young men in soccer and runs a small bar where his friends gather daily. Much of Mané’s grog ends up being on the house. The gang listens aptly to Benfica games on the bar’s radio and celebrates when the team makes a championship final. When one man derides Mané for passing up his chance to play for the team, he resolves to attend the final in Lisbon.

The trip costs all of his family’s meager savings, but he also uses the opportunity to represent himself to Benfica as an agent for his most promising player. He stays with his son, whom he hasn’t seen in 10 years, and the grandson and daughter-in-law he has never met. He also looks up his old teammate Americo, whom Mané has envied for 30 years as the one who went to Benfica, made the most of his talent, and fulfilled his destiny.

SPOILER ALERT

During the trip, Mané learns the ups and downs of big city life. He feels stadium grass for the first time. His son owns a TV. But Mané falls victim to a ticket scam, and his son has a heart-to-heart conversation, lamenting that football was more important to Mané than his family. Teammate Americo had only a short career and lives in a roadside shack. As a result, Mané finally sees the good side of his life on the island of São Vicente, where a bicycle can take him anywhere he needs to go.

Also known as Dribbling Fate in the USA, this film was the first feature by Writer-Director Fernando Vendrell. Very few feature films about football/soccer become cultural references in academic papers. Perhaps Fintar o Destino achieved this status because it was funded by California Newsreel, a long-time champion of social issue films, for its Library of African Cinema. The film’s themes were seldom addressed in 1998, but are widely covered today. 

Cultural Questions

It is a somber thought that this 20 year old film is not just timeless; it is an unending story repeated throughout the world. People living in rural poverty move to the city or another country, and they lose touch with their families and friends. They are rewarded with more modern conveniences, but if they are not refugees from politics or wars, do their lives end up any happier? 

Academic papers point out the significance of the film in representing themes of colonialism, migration, sports washing, opportunity through sport, creole, and Lusophones (people who speak Portuguese).

In researching this film, my objective was more basic: I had to look for Cape Verde on the map. It is a former Portuguese colony of islands off the Northwest coast of Africa, initially populated for slave trade. The village architecture and its people reminded me very much of Cuba, where almost everyone has a mix of Latin and African heritage.

Cape Verde is now one of the most successful African democracies with a population of 0.5M. Despite the country’s size, the Cape Verdean Football Federation today has island leagues with 2 divisions, totaling over 140 clubs. Filming took place on the island of São Vicente, which at the time only had a population of ~50,000. São Vicente currently has 16 teams in its population of nearly 100,000. Clearly, football is extremely popular in Cape Verde, and it remains a dream for many boys and their families as a way to get off the island.

The soccer in the film consists of island boys at practice. I assume that Director Vendrell recruited local players for the film, so the soccer is not bad.

I was curious about the English title of Dribbling Fate, which did not make a lot of sense to me. It appears that “fintar o destino” can mean to escape a poor destiny, or to trick fate for something better.

Where to watch

If you live in the USA or Canada, you can stream the film on Vimeo for a small fee. It is also available on Kanopy.com, which in the USA is free through many public libraries or universities.

In Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole (criolo or Kriolu) with English sub-titles

8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8