›› Mario ‹‹

a film by Marcel Gisler.

2018 | 124 mins | Switzerland.

a bittersweet take on coming out, or perhaps not, in the so-called beautiful game.

Dave says:

Achingly realistic and utterly captivating, this bittersweet take on coming out, or perhaps not, in the so-called beautiful game from screenwriter Thomas Hess and co-writer and director Marcel Gisler poignantly says it like it is; that of a homophobic reality check that many in the profession would I dare say, prefer not to have been said.

It tells, in effect, the story of Bern's YB gifted under 21 footballer Mario Lüthi (Max Hubacher); a young man who is all but destined to go onto major first league acclaim come the end of the current season. Trouble is, there's a new player in town all the way from Germany, a hotshot and well just hot guy by the name of Leon Saldo (Aaron Altaras), who the talent scouts are also keeping a watchful eye on. Initially jeolous of his sporting rival, the two soon develop a close friendship, one that is set to become even closer when they find themselves sharing an apartment together and a tender kiss from Leon that is set to unleash Mario's long suppressed homosexuality. Becoming a couple is seemingly no time, all is fine in their behind-closed-doors world, until that is rumours start to spread that the two are more than just friends, resulting in crisis talks being held between the clubs' management and the boys' agents to discuss the politics of the game, along with the two young men 'being asked' to be publicly seen in the company of woman, with Mario's best friend Jenny (Jessy Moravec) soon to be re-cast as his girlfriend. Only just how long can you keep up a heterosexual façade, at the cost of your personal happiness?

For that's the core message that this wonderfully crafted film makes, namely the consequences on your mental health and relationship bliss on seemingly forever living a lie. To that end, both Altaras and Hubacher play their differing roles beautifully, with Altaras cast as a man no longer prepared to live his life in the sporting closet, unlike Hubacher who is all but struggling to reconcile his love for the game, with his love for another man and here cue a series of touching facial expressions that convey more than words could ever say. Then again, this is but a rollercoaster ride of emotions, that of a narrative mix of blackmail, homophobia and coming out, namely a heart-rending scenario in which clearly something has to give.

Yet what makes this feature standout from a multitude of other works on this theme, is that Gisler ups the game by highlighting the behind the scenes discussions between management and agents, with both sides well aware of the sheer talent that both men have, but conscious of how any such homosexual openness could reflect on the players' market value. To that end, Moravec is splendid as Mario's best friend prepared to go along with his game of heterosexual subterfuge, having like Mario adhered to the 'professional guidance' of his agent Peter Gehrling and here cue Andreas Matti relishing every line of a man determined that nothing will stand in the way of his boy achieving footballing fame and fortune and his due percentage of his sporting glory, even if it's apparent that he's equally understanding of the dilemma that Mario finds himself in.

As in life, everything has a cost and here there's no denying that Gisler is a director with a point that make, that of how in this age of sexual openness, coming out in professional football is still a strict taboo, that of a blame game that keeps gay footballers from achieving their full potential, ever anxious that a careless act may out their true self. And whilst the money and career opportunities for abiding by the rules of the closet are substantial, bearing in mind that if truth be told players are but commodities, bought and sold to another club every two or three years or so, for as high a price as possible, this insightful feature does however go out of its way to dramatically showcase the price you pay for denying the true calling of your heart, given this is but a telling love story of two young men caught in the trap of knowing that their love for each other can never run free.

For here the reality is that money, as ever, talks, with FIFA being all too happy to preach words of homosexual acceptance, only to follow the gravy train for the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a country with a horrific human rights record, appallingly punishing those of homosexual orientation with either imprisonment or bloody lashes of the whip, or both. And that perfectly sums up the sorry situation of a profession in which to this day it remains solely acceptable to engage in man-to-man contact on the field, but not off it. Frankly, need more be said?

Only that and for those wondering about the BBFC 18 certificate for this feature in the UK, well and in all fairness the requisite scenes of sexual intimacy between the two young men as shot in the best possible taste, would have warranted the film a 15 certificate at most, had it not been for the inclusion of a sexually explicit photo that whilst pivotal to the plot, could have easily been re-edited to secure a lower rating. But then, this is a work from a director determined to say it and indeed show it, like it is. And good on him.

›› available as part of the Peccadillo Pictures catalogue.
›› check out the Official Trailer on YouTube.
›› posted: Tuesday, 18th May, 2021.

Gay Visibility - overt. 
Nudity - bare-arsed cheek, plus. 
Overall - file under ... 4 stars. 

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