Mario is like Shakespeare in Love on a football pitch, where two teammates cannot be together because society pulls them apart. I’ve seen a bunch of gay soccer films, and Mario is the first one that has quite an emphasis on the football.
In the story, two young forwards, Mario (Max Hubacher) and Leon (Aaron Altaras) are paired on the U21 team of Bern Young Boys (YB). There is constant competition because everyone knows that usually only 1 player will be promoted to the first team next season. Mario and Leon share a player apartment, but rumors emerge that their relationship has turned intimate. If they want to have a football career, they must pretend to live a heterosexual life, and only Mario is willing to do that.
The trailer pretty much shows the whole story. The rest of the 2 hours develop the viewer’s feelings about the conflicts that Mario suffers within himself, his relationship with Leon, his father, and his team, after he is outed and has to deny it. The film is very detailed and realistic.
More action on the pitch than in the bed
It was interesting to watch Mario at Frameline42: the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival. The Castro Theatre was packed, and the audience skewed mostly older gay male couples, who I am guessing were not very interested in soccer. Even though it was Day 3 of the WC 2018 in Russia, I think my husband and I were the only ones wearing soccer jerseys. Or maybe we’re just not fashion-conscious.
Anyhow, I felt a little sorry for the audience, because there wasn’t much sex in the 2-hour film, and there was a lot of detail about football clubs and management. However, the scenes that dealt with coming out and homophobia in football seemed to resonate well with the audience. There was quite a laugh when Mario’s agent tells him in coarse language that teammates cannot have sex with each other.
When the Mario script was first brought to openly gay Director Marcel Gisler, he was surprised that a German-gay-footballer-sports-romance-drama feature film had not been done before. And, he ended up moving the setting to Switzerland, so as a Swiss-German-gay-footballer-sports-romance-drama feature film, it checked off even more categories and provided a unique selling point for funders.
Football authenticity was a goal
Even though Gisler is not a football fan, he put a lot of effort into making the football practices and games authentic. Stars Hubacher and Altaras were long-time players, which in the post-screening interview, Altaras implied was a prerequisite for the roles. Gisler brought in professional players for all the practice and game simulations. Altaras said that the football and portraying the deep emotion of love were the two hardest parts of his role.
Gisler also worked with Hamburg FC St Pauli and YB to understand how clubs manage players, and how they might address homosexuality in preserving the club’s reputation. Both clubs were chosen to work with because they are the most aggressive in their positions against homophobia. They are very welcoming to LGBT fans, and Gisler feels they may be the most likely clubs where a player might come out in the future.
Is he gay or European?
According to my husband, Altaras said that neither he nor Hubacher are gay. I didn’t hear it that way, but the microphone was spotty and I had trouble with Altaras’ accent, and I couldn’t google anything about either actor’s sexuality. I guess it doesn’t technically matter if an actor portraying a gay character is himself gay, but I know that growing up, I hated watching White people play Asians. So if it is true that Gisler chose non-gay leading actors for such a realistic film, I’d be a little sad about that.
7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7