O futebol

(On Football, Sergio Oksman, Spain/Brazil, 2015)


O futebol (the official English title is On Football) – made in Brazil, birth-country of the now Spain-based director, Sergio Oksman – is a film that divides audiences. I had encountered Oksman’s previous short A Story for the Modlins (2012) – a lightly conceptual, brain–twisting essay-documentary in the tradition of, for example, Isaki Lacuesta’s Cravan vs Cravan (2002) – and was aware of the input in the new film of his script collaborator, cinephile and teacher Carlos Muguiro.

But, no matter what foreknowledge you come in with, this film can blindside you. Where its doco aspect ends and its fiction aspect begins is a problem you have, eventually, to put aside entirely; like in a Frederick Wiseman movie, everything here finally becomes cinema, touched by a certain facility, an attitude, a regard.

O futebol is in the now vast pool of personal documentaries from the past three decades about directors trying to come to terms of endearment, or reckoning, with their parents – whether living, dead, or (as here) in transition from one state to the other.

Sometimes this loose genre can come across as a big, egotistical whinge on the part of the director – demanding recognition, understanding and love from a parental figure who, for one complex social/personal/historical reason or another, is simply unable to grant that reciprocation. Especially as the documentary camera, a few feet away in the room or park or cemetery, rolls relentlessly. (I recall, for example, Haskell Wexler’s fierce challenge to son Mark embarking on such a sentimental journey of account–settling in Tell Them Who You Are [2004].)

But, at a certain point, O futebol turns a corner, and we see proceedings another way. We become alert to the element of fantasy-projection (and even persecution) in the filmmaker, through the way he portrays himself and his project – desperately wanting to recreate the past and give form to a memory that, perhaps, he never even truly lived.

Like in Margot Nash’s superb The Silences (2015), a certain agony intrinsic to such pained revisiting of a largely mute past invades the arrangement of the images and sounds, the gestures and tableaux: here it is given immortal expression in the father’s left-behind crossword puzzles (hundreds of books full of them), which the camera gazes at, ever closer, in search of a deep clue to the past’s mysteries that cannot be there – and never will be there, no matter how furiously this ambivalently grieving son inspects them.

© Adrian Martin February 2016

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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