By Last Caress.
Messi, the documentary by Alex de la Iglesia (Acción mutante, 1993), looks back at the life of Lionel Messi, the diminutive Argentinian footballer who, despite being diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency at the age of ten, went on to star for Catalan giants FC Barcelona and for Argentina, and to become arguably the most gifted exponent of the sport of Association Football the world has ever seen.
The movie takes the form of Messi’s sporting contemporaries – mentor Johan Cruyff, teammates Andrés Iniesta, Javier Mascherano, a host of others – sitting at tables in an informal restaurant/bar alongside friends, teachers and other significant members of Messi’s upbringing, chatting in stilted, semi-scripted “casual” manner to writer Jorge Valdano about Lionel: The boy, the man, the footballer. This interminable get-together is interspersed with videoclips gleaned mostly from Lionel’s father’s private home collection, with glimpses here and there of Messi’s skills as we are familiar with them today, and – far too often – with dramatised reconstructions of this reminiscence or that. But is the man inside Barca’s no.10 shirt as thrilling as his own fancy footwork?
The fatal flaw with Messi is that a fantastic sportsman does not a fantastic character study make. The Damned United (Hooper, 2009) was an interesting dramatization of a time in a football icon’s career because the late Brian Clough was and remains inherently interesting. Senna (Kapadia, 2010) was an interesting documentary because Ayrton Senna was interesting. Zidane, un portrait du 21e siècle (Gordon/Parreno, 2006) was interesting because it kept its focus lazer-pointed at the area in which Zinedine Zidane excels like no other: The football pitch (this is an approach which would have undoubtedly worked well for Messi). There are thousands of biopics, documentaries, books, theses and papers dedicated to Muhammad Ali, but why? For his (admittedly sublime) in-ring skills alone?
Of course, even if sporting prowess alone guaranteed a fascinating subject for scrutiny and Lionel Messi was therefore by that token the most obvious candidate on earth for study, Messi would still be a dud, set as it is within a framework (that of friends/colleagues sat around in a restaurant, reminiscing) which, whilst attempting something fresh, really doesn’t work. His sporting peers seem uncomfortable, his mentors and guardians of old seem to lack much insight beyond recalling that he was quite good with a football. And the “reconstructions” of those recollections – sh*tting crikey! They make the reconstructions on Crimewatch look like clips from Lawrence of Arabia (Lean, 1962).
All of which gives me cause to wonder for whom this documentary has been made. Not enough new or revelatory information to interest a fan, not enough of his exceptional footballing ability to appease either a fan of Messi OR a football neutral who simply appreciates a bit of skill, and too awkwardly congratulatory for even the man himself or his very closest relatives and sycophants.
For the record, the DVD presentation of Messi courtesy of SODA Pictures is in Spanish of course with optional English subtitles and a choice of 2.0 or 5.1 audio, and no extra features whatsoever. Own goal!
You know what would make a genuinely riveting Lionel Messi documentary? One of those fan-made compilation videos of his finest moments on the pitch. And there are already hundreds of them on YouTube. Give Messi a swerve and watch one of those instead.
Messi is available at all good DVD retailers. It’s your dime.
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