The first feature documentary from Writer-Director Pascui Rivas, Ordinary Gods was meant to be a prestige piece. Along that line, his film does not show six young players as powerful future gods of football, nor as soccer royalty who will wow us with talent. Instead, Rivas lets us into their lives to reveal their human frustrations and fragility.
If you want a young person to understand the ups and downs of becoming a professional soccer player, they would benefit from watching this film. As in the movie Trainer!, which intimately follows the challenges of being a lower level German football manager, Ordinary Gods gives us the acne and warts of struggling footballers trying to find their way up. The players were around 20-23 years old when first filmed.
They suffer loneliness, language difficulties, injuries, inability to get playing time, sudden transfers, no transfers, and suicidal thoughts. One player isn’t paid for 8-10 months. On the other hand, another player declines a big money transfer because he doesn’t feel ready and doesn’t want the pressure.
The access to the players, families, agents, and mentors in this film is remarkable. Throughout the film, it is made clear that footballers need to be incredibly resilient to stay in the game. But in addition, these players have careers because of the constant support of wives, girlfriends, and parents.
The six players in the film
The players, their clubs at the time of the movie, their Market Value (MV) at the time of this review, and their birth year:
- Corentin Tolisso (FRA) – Olympique Lyon to Bayern Munich. Current MV = 22,00 Mill. € with a transfer fee of 41,50 Mill. €. Born in 1994
- Oliver Burke (SCO) – Nottingham Forrest to RB Leipzig to West Brom. Current MV = 10,00 Mill. €. Born 1997
- Emanuel Mammana (ARG) – River Plate to Olympique Lyon to Zenit (RUS). Current MV = 7,00 Mill. €. Born 1996
- Gastón Guruceaga (URU) – Stuck at Peñarol but was loaned to Tigre for the 2018 season. Current MV = 2,50 Mill. €. Born 1995
- Roman Zobnin (Зобнин Роман) (RUS) – Spartak Moscow. Current MV = 1,50 Mill. €. Born in 1994
- Alhassane Sylla (SEN) – Diambars to União Maderia (POR). Current MV = 175 Th. €. Born in 1995
The soccer in the film consists of film clips from the players’ youth and professional games. There are good snippets that convey the passionate fan bases for club and country. Two of the players played in WC 2018 (Tolisso for France and Zobnin for Russia).
The story of the Senegalese player is a very similar situation to what has been described in other films, where players are trying to get out of Africa to make it to Europe. Even playing at a low level in Europe is a success by African standards.
Reactions at Cinequest 2019
It’s pretty difficult to find a soccer movie playing in a theater, but fortunately for me, the Cinequest Film Festival brought Ordinary Gods to San Jose, California. For a Wednesday matinee, it was pretty well attended (40-50 people), and afterward, I asked a few women how they liked the film. I anticipated that the film, being so much about soccer, might have been difficult for the non-soccer audience. But, the non-soccer fans said that they enjoyed the character development. On the other hand, a football fan felt it was a little hard to follow. I’m glad I had a chance to see the film, and the women I spoke to all felt the film was enjoyable but a bit long.
My biggest complaint about the film is the way it cuts back and forth between stories and locations in Britain, France, Uruguay, Russia, Germany, and Senegal. Often the scenes are very short and abrupt, so you have to piece the six narratives together in your mind as they unfold, along with the stories of their parents, wives, and girlfriends. Sometimes the cognitive load was a bit tedious for my aging brain. And, because it feels like 90% of the movie is about struggle, the ending doesn’t feel as upbeat as it was meant to be.
In English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian with English sub-titles
7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7
An interaction with the director
EDIT Mar-15-2019 and Mar-25-2019: After I tweeted out the original version of my review, I was contacted by Director Rivas, who pointed out that i had made incorrect assumptions about the Fox Digital Productions TV series Phenoms and his film. Although the movie subjects are similar — young up-and-coming players around the world — the two Fox productions have different distribution deals and channels. You may have to look a little harder to find Ordinary Gods while it plays the festival circuit, but if you are interested in character-based documentary drama, it is worth the wait. There was no implied conflict between Rivas and any contributor to Phenoms, and I apologize if that was construed from what I originally wrote. I am also very thankful to Pascui Rivas for taking the time to correct me, and I am very sorry it’s taken me iterations to get things right (hopefully this version is it).
EDIT Mar-18-2019: If you want to know what is meant by “Prestige TV”, Kathryn VanArendonk wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece to define it.