As fans around the world are riveted by the World Cup, those of us who are not into this sport may want to watch some movies about soccer to get into the spirit.
There have been dozens of movies about soccer, since the sport is a major pastime in just about every country in the world except the US, where experts have been predicting for decades that it will catch on big at any moment.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all soccer-oriented movies, but a selection of 11 of the best and most varied – like the 11 players on each side — five from around the world and six from Israel.
1. Bend It Like Beckham (2002). You don’t have to have the slightest interest in sports to enjoy this lovely movie about a teenage girl from an Indian family in Britain who adores soccer, but whose parents don’t consider the sport ladylike.
This film, directed by Gurinder Chadha, stars Parminder Nagra as Jess, the heroine, and Keira Knightley in her breakout role as an equally enthusiastic player. Archie Panjabi, who played Kalinda on The Good Wife is Jess’s more feminine sister, while Jonathan Rhys Meyers is their coach.
2. The Cup (aka Phorpa, 1999). Directed by Khyentse Norbu, a prominent Buddhist monk (his full title is His Eminence Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche) who was tutored by the Dalai Lama, the movie tells the story of two Tibetan refugees who go to live in a monastery in India, and their struggle to find a way to watch the World Cup.
It’s a beautiful movie, and it infuses its characters’ love of sport with grace. The tag line “Buddhism is their philosophy. Soccer is their religion” says it all.
3. Shaolin Soccer (2001). A good companion piece to The Cup, Shaolin Soccer is a broad comedy from Hong Kong about a martial arts master turned street cleaner who recruits some of his former colleagues to form a soccer team.
A cult classic, this movie has action to spare, as the players defy the laws of gravity to score points. It’s the perfect movie to watch if you’re driven to distraction by a real-life scoreless soccer match.
4. Once in a Lifetime (2006) is an extremely entertaining 2006 documentary about the New York Cosmos, a team in the short-lived North American Soccer League which brought Pelé to the Big Apple. This team got very little attention until the arrival of the Brazilian soccer legend in the mid-’70s but failed to win lasting fans after Pelé’s departure.
Even if you’re not particularly interested in soccer, the struggles of the founders of this league and the sometimes shady investors it attracted will keep you diverted.
5. Victory (1981). This big-budget, star-studded international film, directed by John Huston (The African Queen) was made during the period when efforts were being made to turn soccer into a major American sport.
Set during World War II, it’s about an exhibition soccer match between the German national team and a ragtag group of allied POWS to be played in Paris, where the prisoners plan to make contact with the Resistance and escape. Sylvester Stallone plays an American POW, Michael Caine is the team coach, Max von Sydow is a Nazi officer and Pelé plays the guy who puts on a great performance. In spite of all this star power, it wasn’t a big hit.
Israel is certainly full of soccer fans, and you’d be surprised how many movies about the sport have been made here.
1. Kicking Out Shoshana (2014). This comedy by Shay Kanot, best known to many as Gal Gadot’s last Israeli movie, is fun, if subtlety is not one of your values.
Gadot plays the mistress of a mafia boss. When Ami (Oshri Cohen), one of the star players on a Jerusalem soccer team clearly based on Beitar, a team known for attracting some fans who have expressed racist and homophobic sentiments, gets caught flirting with the mistress, the mob boss makes him confess publicly that he is gay. This brings him a certain amount of condemnation and taunts from some quarters, while he becomes a hero to others. You can kind of imagine it all, but it’s still enjoyable.
2. Forever Pure (2016). Maya Zinshtein’s documentary about Beitar Jerusalem and how the team’s extremist fans responded with hatred when the club acquired two Muslim players from Chechnya tells the real story behind the club that inspired Kicking Out Shoshana.
This film has won prizes around the world and is a must-see for anyone interested in Jerusalem sports.
3. After the Cup: Sons of Sakhnin United (2009). This documentary tells the uplifting story of the Bnei Sakhnin soccer team, a team from an Arab town where Jews and Arabs play on the same side, which won Israel’s top soccer prize and represented Israel in Europe. Directed by Alexander Browne and Christopher Browne, the documentary follows the team during the season after its triumph, as it tries to continue the momentum.
4. Beitar Provence (2002) is a comedy-drama about a beleaguered small-town soccer team that hosts a match against Maccabi Tel Aviv. Ze’ev Revach, the veteran star of classic Israeli comedies such as Snooker and Charlie Ve’hetzi, plays the coach, and Itay Turgeman is a young player whose dream is to make it to Maccabi.
5. Cup Final (1991). Eran Riklis’s movie about Palestinian terrorists who kidnap two Israeli soldiers and end up bonding with them over the World Cup finals is probably the most famous Israeli soccer movie. It stars several of Israel’s best actors, including Mohammad Bakri, Moshe Ivgy and Salim Dau.
There’s a problem in the basic concept of the film, though, in that while sports can bring people together, it seems improbable that a soldier would put all conflict aside to watch the big game with someone who just killed his buddy in front of him.
6. The 90-Minute War (2016). Eyal Halfon’s satirical comedy is about what would happen if the Israelis and Palestinians decided to settle their differences on the soccer field. Moshe Ivgy and Norman Issa play the coaches of the two teams.
The movie has its moments, but in the end there aren’t many laughs.