It’s such a terrible shame that it took 5 years for a movie like this to become widely available to the American audience. Paolo Zucca’s Italian football film L’arbitro is absurdly fresh and funny, while also being odd and confusing.
It captures so much of the truth of the drive to become a top referee, lower-league football passion, corruption, life in Sardinia, and a comparison to religion. And it does it all with a heavy dose of irony.
To be sure, I was at first taken aback by the film, almost shell-shocked by the images: referees who practically dance on the pitch, pumped up players running to the stands to interact with crazed fans, who only number around a dozen, an old matriarch who marches onto the field to attack the referee with her umbrella. In the deciding match, fans shoot rifles during the game and try to hang the Assistant Referee while the Center Referee is at the other end of the field. Oh my.
Interspersed with the referee’s challenges are side plots about sheep, a blind coach, and an attempted romancing of the coach’s playing-hard-to-get daughter by his star player Matzutzi (Jacopo Cullin). Looking back, I find the ideas preposterously funny, but at the time, I was scratching my head trying to figure out how it all fit together.
Started as a short film
Perhaps the reason it is a little hard to cognitively assemble is because L’arbitro started as a 15 minute short film. The short had the elements of the ambition and fall of Arbitro Cruciani (played by Stefano Accorsi in the feature film) and much of the same football action/passion. The feature film duplicated the soccer scenes with a new set of actors and added more depth on the Referee, corruption, the side plots, and showcasing Sardinia (Zucca’s home town).
I really loved the soccer action in this film as well. It looks like every actor in this film is also a player. In addition, I am impressed that Zucca identically reenacted the short’s fouls and shots with different actors. (Showing the fouls correctly is important to communicate the Referee’s effort to call the game right.)
I couldn’t find much about Director Zucca, but this quote helps explain what he was trying to accomplish with the feature film:
“Aesthetically speaking, one of the avenues I investigated for this film is blending tones and film genres. While I have mainly opted for comedy and the light touch, I’ve interspersed the film with darker moments, such as a few of the stages in the international referee Cruciani’s descent into professional ‘hell’, or the minor subplot involving the ancestral codes of sheep breeding in Sardinia.
By the same token, the epic and the grotesque, the highbrow and the lowbrow all mingle in the film and switch places quite unpredictably, at times. […]
I chose to film in black and white, partly to achieve the maximum degree of abstraction from reality and from the constraints of time and place, to avoid the film’s being seen as an objective representation of the world of football, or a particular geographical context.” [Paolo Zucca]
I can’t be unhappy with a film that leaves me a little perplexed but smiling.
In Italian with English sub-titles
8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8