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MOVIES (GFF 2022): Tigers - Review

Films about football have rarely tackled the real cost of achieving dreams. As you get older you often begin to forget how young superstar prodigies truly are – for example at Arsenal, the team that I support – the average age of the entire squad is 24.6 years old, with prodigies Bakayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe being 20 and 21 respectively. It’s a daunting prospect to be in a position that every fan dreams of accomplishing from a young age – few get the chance to play at the highest level, and not everyone always succeeds even when they do – not everyone can be Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but everyone dreams of becoming them.

Films about football would have you believe different however; that everyone is on their Roy of the Rovers story arc – or a set-back away from becoming Santiago Munez. But what happens to the players that don’t recover from that set-back? How are their dreams affected – their lifestyle choices interplayed? Do they sink, or do they swim? In this case, Tigers steps into tell the story of one who sank – Martin Bengtsson, played by Erik Enge, who is a Swedish prodigy brought by Inter Milan at just 16. Taken to the life of the San Siro and Serie A he quickly finds out that a shot at a lifetime has a heavy cost, a heavy burden – and grapples with the price of fame and fortune. It’s a film that provides an inward look at an unexplored genre – the mental effects of competing at an elite level from such a young age and what it does to the human psyche. It’s helped that the cast look all the more believable as football stars – Enge is terrific as the tortured Bengtsson, a real-life figure – and it’s always welcome to see Alfred Enoch as a hotshot American superstar more confident in his lifestyle than Bengtsson will ever be, embracing his charismatic mentor-type role with gusto. There are shadows of Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash at every turn – and it’s on par with the 2014 masterwork, a bold claim perhaps but one that feels entirely justified.

The film starts out as your typical rags to riches journey but it quickly becomes anything but that. We see Bengtsson fall in love, drive his first car, make his debut for Inter – and get swept up in the world of elite sport but the fa├žade is only temporary. Soon the problems and the rot starts to set in – everything feels far more realistic than a Roy of the Rovers story and it’s helped by the fact that Inter are okay with using real players and real professionals.

Sweden’s International Oscar Submission can rightly feel that much – it’s powerful and deeply touching, humanising in its approach, fans can often offer a blinkered viewpoint about the human on the other side of the screen. Bengtsson’s story has been around for a while – In the Shadow of the San Siro – which spoils the ending of the film, but the novel documents the pressures put on him to succeed and acts as a true watershed moment into the ugly side of the sport.

DOP Marek Wieser crafts an eye-catching look into football that brilliantly showcases a game that feels real rather than just actors on the pitch. Part of that is a close up on Bengtsson himself having to deal with the raw atmosphere of the San Siro – intimidating to watch let alone play in – rather than go for any wide shots of the whole game in play. It’s a down to earth film that feels grounded in the realm of the real – boasting a commanding, electric soundtrack to boot that really makes it a surprise hit with me – it’s something that’s very much worth keeping an eye on for even if you’re not a football fan. And if you are – well – Tigers is absolutely essential, and maybe emerges as the best film about football since Bend it Like Beckham.

Tigers is being release by Studio Soho on June 3rd in cinemas across the UK.


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