you were breezing through this week's new releases on the sites a few of UK on-line retailers, you might just stumble
across a film called Balls (actual title Männer wie wir, which translates as 'Men Like Us'), and a good many of you will hop straight
past it because more than one of these sites have chosen
to label the film 'gay interest'. In terms of its subject
matter it would certainly qualify for the queer cinema label,
but a film as energetic, cheerily upbeat and well made as
this one does not deserve to be so narrowly pigeonholed
(the same is true for a great deal of queer cinema, of course).
It seems daft that a formulaic but entertaining story of
underdogs winning against the odds, one that would normally be
seen as mainstream fare, is in danger of being consigned
to a specialist audience simply because the main characters
are gay. Mind you, I'm not completely naïve here – I do realise that a large portion of the mainstream audience
are still intolerant enough to run a mile on spikes
rather than watch a movie featuring even one gay character,
let alone eleven. Which is a shame, as it's that still widely
held prejudice that this film so effectively highlights
and challenges, and in delivering a worthwhile message in an audience-friendly wrapper, it could make ideal viewing for
more mainstream-orientated viewers.
terms of plot, there is nothing – and I do mean nothing –
about Balls that will particularly surprise you. The formula goes like this – a sympathetic lead character is humiliated and challenged to complete a task
that everyone believes him incapable of, but he goes off anyway in search
of those who will aid him in his quest, and returns to do
battle, in which he will inevitably triumph. It's Joseph
Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces again, the inspiration
for just about every mainstream movie from Hollywood and
beyond since George Lucas swallowed the book whole and spat
it out as Star Wars back in 1977.
this case our hero is young and good-looking Ecki, the goalkeeper
for a local football team and a boy whose lack of progress with his girlfriend
turns out to be down to his own unrealised preference for
young males. When the discovery of his true sexuality is made
suddenly and embarrassingly public, Ecki is dropped
from the team in an instant, and in the argument that follows
he is challenged to put together a gay team to play against
his old team-mates. In the heat of the moment he
accepts, but in this rigidly heterosexual sport, where is
he to find such players?
can be few of you who could not write the rest yourself,
and to be honest if you've already made a guess how it all
ends, well you're probably right. The plot holds no surprises
here, but the exuberant handling by American ex-patriot Sherry
Horman is surprisingly seductive and quick off the mark. The opening
credits briskly set the scene and the style for what follows, with busy camerawork and snappy editing underscored
by breezy rock track, the action laced with engaging character
detail and amusing comic asides.
if the film is weakened by its adherence to generic cliché,
it also unexpectedly draws strength from it too. A formula that
is traditionally used for the (re-) establishment of masculinity
by allowing the hero to discover his inner strength, defeat the
enemy and marry the princess, here becomes a route to the
establishment of gay pride and acceptance by friends and
family. Thus a comic take on the Seven Samurai
recruitment of warriors is not only frequently
funny, but gently deflates the widely held (but statistically
unlikely) belief that football is a purely heterosexual
game, while a locker-room talk to prompt Ecki out for the
final match sweetly reveals the level of his mother's non-judgemental
devotion to her son. Inevitably the gay stereotypes are
there, but are never overplayed and are counterbalanced
nicely by players cool enough to adorn any young fan's bedroom
wall, and a trio of bikers whose tenderness and affection
for each other sits very comfortably behind their hard-ass
street image. A particularly amusing aside has David Beckham,
an international sporting icon and one of the game's most
admired and recognised figures, singled out as both an inspiration
for the players and a highly desirable gay icon.
a mistake to label a film like Balls for gay interest only, especially as its
message of tolerance and understanding is targeted very
specifically at the audience most likely to react to that
misjudgment. Yes it's very formulaic, but it's also funny,
energetic and genuinely worth your while – just put
those silly prejudices aside for 90 minutes and you may
just have a damned good time.
If you caught the first post of this review you'll know
that the preview disc we were working from gave no clear
indication of the picture or sound quality. Well it's good
news, as both are pretty damned fine. The anamorphic 1.85:1
transfer is sharp and with pleasing contrast and colour,
although many scenes appear to have a slight yellow cast
to them. In these postmodernist days, it's hard to tell
if this was intended or not.
5.1 soundtrack is a very lively one, with good seperation,
a fine dynamic range and some very beefy LFE bass, notably
in the night club scene in which Ecki wonders whether he
might be gay after all after narrowly escaping a fisting.
There is a slight treble bias evident in some scenes, which
adds a slight hiss to the letter S.
only one of real note is the Making-Of Featurette (14:35), an entertaining and informative collection of behind-the-scenes
footage, some of which is set to the English language tunes
used in the film. A nice mixture of crew and cast antics
and revelations on how shots and scenes were filmed.
are also Trailers for The
Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, Transylvania
(released as Men and Balls in the US) may
have few narrative surprises, but in the detail and positive
messages about gender choice it's a real star, and also
happens to be great fun to watch. Peccadillo's DVD scores
on picture and sound and includes a very worthwhile 'making-of'
featurette. Please, don't let the 'Gay Interest' label put
you off – this is a very enjoyable and positive movie that
deserves to find a wider audince than it is in danger of
doing. See it, enjoy it and tell your friends.