René Higuita is the kind of guy that Writer-Director Luis Ara would greatly appreciate. Higuita is a man who rose from poverty to celebrity but who knows the value of life, friendship, and passion for the game. In Higuita: El camino del Escorpión, his story is told in a well-orchestrated arc that gives you a feel for the man and his values.
Higuita’s Life and Football
We learn how Higuita debuted as a GK for the Colombian club Atletico Nacional in 1986, claiming that he was in the cafeteria when the starting GK was ejected. Initially trained as a striker, Higuita liked to leave his penalty area and dribble up the field. The film credits him with being the original sweeper-keeper, to the extent that he claims to be the reason for the passback rule. But Higuita was much more than a sweeper-keeper, as over his career he scored somewhere over 40 goals, mostly free kicks and PKs.
About 30 minutes into the film, they cover the 1989 Copa Libertadores Final between Atletico Nacional and Olimpia. The iconic penalty shootout goes 9 rounds with 7 shots blocked or missed in the last 4 rounds. It is the club’s first Copa Libertadores championship, and the success sets up the players and coach to continue their winning ways in their roles with the Colombian National Team.
The film continues with the National Team’s success at WC 1990 in Italy, Colombia’s first appearance since 1962, where they advance out of the group stage. I enjoyed seeing Higuita beat Jurgen Klinsmann to a ball.
Interviews with players Luis Carlos Perea, Jorge Campos, Carlos Valderrama, and Luis Carlos Perea and managers Francisco Maturana and Hernán Darío Gómez (aka Bolillo) attest to Higuita’s unique abilities, his personality on the pitch, and how he inspired his teammates. While you always hear these kinds of testimonials in these kinds of documentaries, Writer-Director Luis Ara gets the speakers to give specific examples from the heart. As a result, you end up feeling that René Higuita is a well-loved teammate.
After that, football’s association with drug lords, i.e. narco-futbol, affects Higuita personally. There are some minutes towards the end of the film where Higuita explains how he developed his famous goalkeeping scorpion kick over 2 years, more as a statement of joy rather than as a soccer tactic. But otherwise, the rest of the film focuses on Higuita’s involvement as the go-between in a drug cartel-related kidnapping.
The film tells a story about the kidnapping that is a little different from what you can read in newspaper articles. In May-1993, Luis Carlos Molina’s 14 year old daughter is kidnapped and a ransom is demanded. Molina asks Higuita to help by being the go-between, delivering the ransom to the kidnappers in exchange for the girl. It’s a little strange that the now adult victim tells her story with her face and name hidden, as her identity is easily googled. In any case, Higuita returns the girl to her family, who hold a big party to welcome her back, and in gratitude, Molina insists that Higuita accept an envelope with $50k in it.
Unfortunately for Higuita, at that time Law 40 was put in place in an attempt to reduce kidnapping. By getting involved as a go-between without informing the police, and by profiting from the act, he has committed a crime. The film says he is arrested that same day and then detained for 9 months. As a result, he is unable to participate in WC 1994 in the USA. We do see him play football while in prison, and with his fellow prisoners, he even watches his National Team play their WC qualifying games on TV. I really didn’t understand how they even had such footage of Huigita.
Anyhow, when I did some research, many sources said that Molina was a money launderer for druglord Pablo Escobar. At the time, Escobar had escaped from prison and was in hiding. I found articles by the NY Times and Esquire that believed Escobar was behind the Molina kidnapping because he was short of funds and his former associates were no longer funneling him money. It does seem that if Higuita were arrested on the very day of the rescue, that someone inside Molina’s organization or else the kidnappers, reported him to the police. The ransom was supposedly $300k, which would be about double that today, or $630k.
You can read about narco-futbol in my reviews of Goles en Contra and Dangerous Play. As a secret owner of Atletico Nacional, Escobar had friendly or hierarchical relationships with Higuita and other players. In this film, Higuita and his friends ascertain that the police arrested him in order to find the whereabouts of Pablo Escobar. They even say Higuita was tortured.
The NY Times says that Higuita was arrested on Jun-4-1993. By Dec-2-1993, Pablo Escobar was found and killed, and Higuita was released, maybe on Jan-1st, according to the film. Subsequently, he was found innocent of the charges, but basically he lost a year of his life.
Before watching this film, I was unaware of Higuita’s kidnapping involvement, which takes up 30 minutes of his story. Because the film portrays Higuita so positively, I ended up sympathetic to his plight. What kind of career would he have had otherwise? Perhaps Colombia would have gone much further in WC 1994. Maybe Andres Escobar (no relation to the druglord) would not have been assassinated, had Higuita been behind him in the goal.
The only thing you know for sure is that René Higuita is not the kind of guy to whine over what-ifs. He even says he would do it again. He finds comfort in his legacy — the goalkeeper scorpion kick, FIFA’s change in the pass back rule, and of course his family.
This was another strong film from Luis Ara, demonstrating how René Higuita knows the value of life and the secret to happiness. Luis Ara’s other film that I have reviewed is Forever Chape.
8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8