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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

Mario ****

Starring: Max Hubacher, Aaron Altaras, Jessy Moravec, Jürg Plüss

Director: Marcel Gisler

Country: Switzerland

So the world has gone football mad. With England flying high in the World Cup and the nation preparing for when football “comes home”, it is of course no coincidence that Peccadillo Pictures is releasing its gay football romance Mario in cinemas on the weekend of the Final. But unlike the glitz and glamour of the international teams, this depicts a small team in Switzerland; the kind in which players start out, getting their foot on the ladder before moving onto bigger and better things.

Mario (Hubacher) has been playing for the Swiss team for a while. A popular member of the team, he keeps his life private, steering clear of the debauched behaviour of his teammates. Because, unbeknownst to them, he is gay. His best friend (Moravec) knows, but he is living in a self-imposed closet because he feels that his career would be over if his secret came out. Cue the arrival of Leon (Altaras), a handsome young player from Hamburg who lodges in a flat with Mario. It isn’t long before the tension between the two gives way to an intense and passionate affair, but soon they are spotted being affectionate in public and rumours abound within the team. Within hours, the pair are summoned to crisis talks, where their relationship is treated like a cataclysmic disaster, both for themselves and for the team.

Initially, this looks to be heading down the route of an erotically charged romance, but the halcyon days of this relationship are very short-lived. The film aims to depict homophobia in football at its absolute seething worst. The players victimise the pair; gossip and rumours abound, with snide comments and mob-culture distracting from any sense of proportion. Then, within the management of the club, their romance is seen as nothing but scandal. They keep repeating that they have no issues with their sexuality, but obviously this is always followed with a great big “BUT”. As far as they are concerned, a career in football and an openly gay lifestyle are mutually incompatible.

On paper, this doesn’t look a million miles away from The Pass, but while the Russell Tovey film explored the same issues over three scenes set years apart, Mario fills in the gaps. And unlike in the British film, the titular Mario of the Swiss movie is perfectly aware of his sexuality, looking to avoid the gregariousness of the football lifestyle so he can exist on the sidelines; his sexuality unlinked to his career. Except the only person he shouldn’t fall in love with is another player. Forced to make the choice between his career and his personal happiness, this is Sophie’s Choice for Mario; he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

Some of the best pieces of gay cinema in recent years have come from movies that depict burgeoning romances between men in hyper-masculine environments. From the competitive swimming of Floating Skyscrapers to the police of Free Fall and the farmers of God’s Own Country, these films put masculinity under the microscope, showing that homosexuality can – and does – exist anywhere. But while the world around Mario and Leon are sensationalising the proclivity of their relationship, what is quite striking is just how unsensational the reality of their affair is. They live in a small rundown flat. They play video games. They make breakfast in a tiny kitchen. Somehow, their mundane normality is inflammatory to everyone else.

As the film goes on, we see more and more of the world of football that is so important to them both. Unlike other films about football that depict very little actual football, there is plenty of it to be seen here. There is one particular sequence of a match in a large full stadium that makes you wonder how a film of this size could have had such a large budget. But even if you’re not a fan of the sport (which, I must admit, I am not), there is plenty of underlying tension to keep you entertained. At its best, the film very adeptly depicts the inherent homophobia in the upper echelons of the game, but it does run a little over-long, with the final act slightly failing to live up to the promise of what came before it. However, this is a great film about sexuality in football, and is a darned slight better than The Pass.


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