A visually breathtaking, gently comic homage to the indigenous communities that are its subject and to soccer's power to penetrate lives, veteran Spanish documaker Gerardo Olivares' "The Great Match" provides superb entertainment for an hour before running out of steam. Set in Mongolia, Niger and the Amazon, and cast with non-pros, this attempt to explore the relationship between the most global of sports and the most isolated of communities is, nevertheless, of interest to fest sidebars. Spanish release is set for April 21.
Plot basically has members of three isolated tribal groups making sometimes superhuman efforts to get to see the final of the 2002 soccer World Cup between Germany and Brazil. Fact that the pic must have been a logistical nightmare to shoot never shows.
Things open in the vast spaces of Mongolia's Altai mountains, with a group of riders, including Dalai Khan (Shag Humar Khan) and Aldanish (Abu Aldanish), using eagles to catch a fox. After the day's hunting, they head back to the family tent, presided over by a proverb-spouting grandmother (Zeinolda Igaza). Her words of wisdom are faithfully transcribed by Kumar Khan (Kenshleg Alen Khan).
In Niger's Tenere desert, a caravan of camels, led by Tuareg Hassan (Attibou Aboubacar), comes across a truckload of people on their way to see the game in a nearby town. Since Hassan has a TV set, the camel drivers suggest the truck reroutes to an "iron tree" -- an abandoned military installation -- which will serve as an aerial. To his frustration, Mohamed (Mohamed Hassan Dit Blinde) is left alone to look after the camels.
The third, most explicitly farcical yarn, set in the relatively claustrophobic jungle, has soccer-shirt wearing tribal hunter Xama (Jenesco Kaapor) trying -- and repeatedly failing, like an Amazonian Buster Keaton -- to set up a TV set and an ancient dynamo in his compound to watch the game.
All of this is engaging enough, but once the TV sets are up and running, the script has nowhere to go. Too much of the pic's last half-hour is devoted to reactions to the game. Still, the characters are engaging and handled with a combination of wry amusement and compassion. The shortage of storylines is compensated for by the practicalities of their day-to-day lives, such as in the Amazon, the women's frustration at the men's uselessness as hunters as the men paint football shirt numbers on their naked backs.
Helmer's extensive docu experience comes through strongly. Thesps seem to be following the script, but are also being themselves -- the source of most of the pic's pleasures.
Camera (color), Olivares; editors, Rori Sainz de Rozas, Raquel Torres; sound (Dolby Digital), Carlos de Hita. Reviewed at Image Film, Madrid, Feb. 7, 2006. (In Berlin Film Festival -- Berlinale Special.) Running time: 88 MIN.