Sylvester Stallone, Pelé, Osvaldo Ardiles, a prisoner of war camp, very bad Nazis, a spectacular escape, the Marseillaise, John Huston, an unclassifiable move, Michael Caine, a Chilean goal and a penalty in the last minute.
Escape to Victory It is not a great movie but it has become a great vice. It integrates that particular category, that cinematographic genre with not too many exponents that means that each time you come across it, you must stop zapping and stay tied until the end, regardless of whether we know it. Or on the contrary, it kidnaps us because we know the end and we want to see that extraordinary game again, full of flaws, of badly choreographed but hypnotic plays.
Escape to Victory it was shaping up to be one of the great cinematographic events of 1981. A renowned director, great stars, the best soccer player in history (until then), other recognized soccer players around the world, a plot that mixed the Second World War, the Nazis, the French Resistance, a spectacular escape and soccer. Some even said that it was a mix between The big escape and Rocky but with goals.
The budget was huge for the time: $ 15 million. The main actor one of the highest grossing of his time. Stallone, for the first time in a long time, was not managing the project. He had not named the director, participated in or influenced the script. His greatest contribution was having managed to make music “his” composer: Bill Conti. There are the trumpets and the also recognizable of the author of Gonna Fly now (and also evident tributes to Shostakovich).
The claims of the project were not only reflected in the big budget but in the choice of the other actors: Michael Caine, Max von Sydow. And there were also the footballers: Pelé, Osvaldo Ardiles, Pole Deyna, Bobby Moore, the captain of the New York Cosmos, a Dutch scorer, the Irish and a large part of the Ipswich Town squad, among others.
John Huston, director, it came from some box office and critical failures. But nobody forgot that he had directed The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen or Chinatown. But after the setbacks of his latest films, he believed that his career did not have much left, that at the most he could film some other low-budget film. So he did not hesitate to accept this large-scale project.
Escape to Victory perhaps it is the movie that has the most fame within football, the iconic football movie, the inescapable reference. And being the best-known and most cited exponent, it highlights many of the difficulties posed by the transfer of this sport to the screen. Despite that, his structural problems are not football's fault. There is an air of laziness that flies over. No one seems to have worked too hard to film it. The script shows incomprehensible holes. For example: Stallone escapes but lets himself be trapped, trusting that no severe retaliation will be brought against him – generally the fugitives were shot in full view of the prisoners in order to warn them – and that he will be sent to the same detention camp.
The training clips, which with music by Bill Conti are intended to mimic those of Rocky, they lack all interest and rhythm. The publicity shorts with training sessions of the Argentina Selection than César Menotti He did for those years for an oil company. Director John Huston who knew a lot about cinema, war, boxing –Golden city (Fat city, 1972) It is an extraordinary movie-, and even how to hunt elephants, but no football, never finds where the emotional center of a match is. You can't blame him: almost no film director yet discovered it.
Huston had never seen a soccer game in his life. The filming of the meeting was left to her assistants. But his lack of desire is seen in other episodes of the shooting. Filming was in Budapest. The MKT stadium perfectly mimicked that of Colombres, where the script places the action. Furthermore, the costs in Hungary were lower than in France. But in Budapest it was very cold, therefore Huston rarely left his car or his caravan. In a scene where Stallone had to crawl through the mud to get around barbed wire, Sly believed the director was following the action from afar. But when he went looking for it, he couldn't find it. Huston had left the set a few hours ago.
The director once stated that what motivated him to join the project was the possibility of directing an actor like Michael Caine. Probably the phrase more than a compliment to Caine has been a veiled criticism of Stallone.
Another oddity about the movie is that for the first time, Stallone must share the advertising poster. The image is a triad, arms raised between victorious and defiant of him, Pelé and Michael Caine. All three have red jumpsuits and not the beautiful shirt their team wears in the final.
As here the maxim is never fulfilled: "If you know how to act, you don't know how to play." And vice versa. There are some that do not meet either of the two requirements. The Stallone thing in the arch does not even touch the worthy. That the man who has no idea how to put his hands up, who turns over instead of flying, who pockets the ball in the most heterodox and least safe way in the universe, who cannot even punch a rained center that falls dead in the girl area, that this man with all those shortcomings is able to tackle a penalty in the last moment of a game changes the genre of the movie. It turns it into a science fiction one. As much as a plot trick tries to excuse it, that he is the goalkeeper of the allies attacks the plausible of history.
While filming Night hawks, the production of Escape to VictoryI send Stallone a special visit. As a personal trainer, he had at his side Gordon Banks, the famous English goalkeeper, the one with the impossible save to Pelé in Mexico 70, the world champion in '66. But Stallone never paid much attention to him. He underestimated the difficulty of going to the goal.
When he got to the shooting of Escape to Victory, the first time he tried to fly to catch a ball, the man dislocated in the fall (and they also scored the goal). From then on, he paid more attention to Banks, although in the final scenes some rib broke: "Physically it was more demanding for me to try to tackle than to play Rocky", declared later.
As he was the star of the movie demanded to score the winning goal. The script said that he came out of his area and gambeteando the entire rival team and converted: if it cost him with his hands, one must imagine the difficulties he would have with his feet. Luckily, someone convinced him and it all came down to tackling that saving penalty. Sly decided to put himself under a strict regime to play the goalkeeper: "A prisoner of war cannot have the physique of an Olympic weightlifting champion," he explained.
There are many soccer-themed films, but few are able to overcome the median (or the very poor). There are some based on real events, centered on mythical players, biographical documentaries, portraits of historical teams, dramas with children as protagonists and even some attempt to exploit the phenomenon of women's soccer in the United States. But the end result, in almost all cases, is similar: little taste. This happens with soccer movies, it does not happen with other sports, which beyond their quality as a cinematographic work, manage to attract our attention every time we see them.
Let's stop the nonsense and focus on what's important: The Argentine connection. Let's analyze how Osvaldo Ardiles played, who was chosen for his fame in England and for his appearance: his thinness – like that of the Polish Deyna – make it plausible that he was detained in a prisoner of war camp. In the first half he did not have much participation, but in the second he broke it. He made the second, a great goal eluding the goalkeeper, in the third the goalkeeper covered a hand to hand and Bobby Moore rebounded it, and started the fourth play. But everything must be said, the recklessness he commits with the completed time is unforgivable: he threw himself to the feet in his own area and did a stupid penalty. However, a luxury that throws is the one that has been immortalized in the collective unconscious.
Let's try to unravel a question that haunted me thirty-five years ago: What is the name of the play that Ardiles makes in Escape to Victory? Let's explain it for the unwary: without stopping the race, the player leaves the ball slightly behind and with the instep of one foot, hooks it with the heel of the other and makes it pass over his head and, fundamentally, of the defender who remains of backs to the ball and with a matchless stupid face. Some argue that it is the Bicycle. Others, Marianela. The problem is that both denominations also designate other plays. The Bicycle is also applied to the gambet that a striker makes by passing his foot over the ball to at the same time hook with the instep to the opposite side to snub the defender. The two most representative cultists of this play in Argentine soccer were the Lobo Fischer and Sergio Saturno. La Marianela is a play from the time of amateur football. They say its inventor was Juan Evaristo, Selection defender. It was a rejection, somewhat acrobatic, in which the defender hooked the ball with his instep and cleared by rotating 180 degrees, generally lifting the ball above the attackers. A few years ago, in a friendly between Argentina and Brazil, Leandro Damiao he made the move to Ossie Ardiles to Emiliano Papa. Damiao said that in Brazil they call her Lambretta. In England, Rainbow kick. But the lovers of Escape to Victory it seems that they decided the contest definitively: for them it is the Osvaldinha.
Escape to Victory is very freely inspired by a real event. In 1942, in Ukrainian lands invaded by the Nazis, soccer had been forgotten. Until a baker discovered that one of the shaggy applicants for a position he offered (job offers were rare) was one of his idols, the great Nikolai Trusevych, Kiev Dynamo goalkeeper. He hired him immediately. The daily talks were only about soccer. Thus they began to gather survivors who had played football before the war and the invasion and put together a team. The Germans thought it was a good opportunity. They selected some soldiers and easily defeated the undernourished Ukrainians.
Then an idea occurred to them. They could make a little league, to highlight the vice and in the process to appear a normal climate. Five German teams and the hopeless grouting of former Eastern European footballers who were dubbed FC Start. But with a few weeks of training, something better eaten, the Ukrainians devastated each rival. The routs were continuous and increasingly bulky. The last hope was the best German team, the Flakelf, with well-fed players and various professionals. But again, the Soviets thrashed: 5 to 1. They immediately organized the rematch. But, the result, despite some irregularities in the arbitration and the pressure to allow them to beat, was again favorable to FC Start.
The Nazis believed that soccer was a great propaganda weapon, but the FC Start course brought them problems. It showed them vulnerable and raised the morale of the invaded. As it was shown that they could not beat them on the court, they decided to scrap the team. Before long, all of his players were sent to different concentration camps as punishment for their soccer skills. Only three managed to survive (who were later accused by Stalinism of collaborationists for having played soccer). Over time, at that last meeting, the day the Germans definitely knew that they were not going to be able to overcome that brilliant football, it was known as The Party of Death.
Two other films emerged from this episode in addition to this one. The least known and most recent, of Russian origin, is Match (2012) the one that recreates with greater historical rigor the event.
The third film based on that Death Party is an underclassed classic that became known as Match in hell (Ket felido a pokolban, 1962) Hungarian film of Zoltan Fabri. This film, in an ascetic black and white, reaches the final game transiting more similarly places to those of Escape to Victory. Recruitment of lifeless players, some escape attempt, natural leadership. But his inevitable resolution, with no happy ending, full of dignity and pain on a makeshift court in the middle of a lager, with a dirt floor with hardly any brush of wild grass as an exception, with the prisoners watching the game with dying eyes and the Nazis Threatening with their weapons, they make the movie unforgettable.
Zoltan Fabri, as soon as the story begins, makes it clear with a traveling shot that crosses a barracks in the concentration camp, that the atmosphere is very different. There is hunger, forced labor, violence, disease and a lot of death. You can almost smell the stench. In celebration of Hitler's birthday, German officers decide to host a soccer match between their soldiers and middle officers and a team with the prisoners.. Among these is a player who stood out until the war stopped his career. He had participated in the 36th Olympics in Berlin and in the 38th World Cup, a Hungarian named Dio Onodi. He is asked by Nazi officials to organize a team.
The elect will enjoy some privileges: greater portion of food, leaving forced labor and possibilities to train for the big game. The captain had to choose the players. He received hundreds of offers: the amenities were very tempting. In an exemplary scene a guard gives him a choice between a piece of cheese and a leather ball, one of those with touch. He chooses the ball. He throws it up, keeps it in the air with a few short blows, when he goes down he plays, the ball passes from one foot to the other without touching the ground, until he lifts it with his thigh and hits it with a strong, vertical right hand, that seems to be lost in a cloud. When it falls, it kills the ball with its instep and protects it with its sole. His fellow detainees stare spellbound, their faces changing as he unfolds his skill. At that moment, with a lopsided smile, he utters the irrefutable phrase: "Soccer is sacred."
Roberto Fontanarrosa, in a book that compiles some of his soccer cartoons, which he titled with that phrase, tells in the prologue that he saw Match in hell in a Rosario cinema in a triple program and thus reveals the end of the match, after an unfavorable first half in which Onodi almost did not participate: “The point is that Dio got angry, hunted the balloon, put it under the sole. .. and go sing to Gardel. In thirty minutes he turned the game, made three seeds and even put the ball for the triumph goal on the little Jewish boy who was playing eleven and had the bad idea of going to yell at the German tribune, where was the brave bar of the Nazis. The Germans were angry and did not wait until the final whistle. There they no more screwed up all of them, certifying that it is very difficult to win as a visitor ”.
To finish a personal memory: I know, without room for doubt, what was the movie that I most anxiously awaited in my life. And despite everything said above, it was a football movie. Saw Heroes (Hero, 1987) the day of its premiere, in the first show, at the América cinema in Buenos Aires. By mid-morning the line was already reaching the corner. It was a crowd waiting for noon to pass before the movie began in times of unnumbered entries. The weather in the overflowing room – I think it was the only time I saw people standing in the hallways like on the days of the grand finals on the court – was one of nervous and joyous expectation.
It was a time without cable or internet. The goals were rarely seen and always with the cameras of the official broadcast. This is why magazines and newspapers were so successful. There the games were revived, you could see in a photo if the fault had been within the area or not. See scenes from the matches of World 86 in the cinema it was a very impressive experience. Diego Maradona is the leading actor (incomprehensible as they did not give him a film award for best actor). As he preheats, with a unique grace, a massive dancer, with the mischief of a restless teenager and the power of a tank, Valeria Lynch friends with a whole generation that had it as a "fat" consumption. That You give me more every day he will no longer be able to disassociate himself from the figure of Diego. HeroesIt, too, is the record of a genius at the peak of his strength and inspiration. And it becomes a thriller with the definition of penalties between France and Brazil: a masterful sequence of sports cinema.