SIFF Film Review – Red Eyes

It seems that being a Futbol fan in Chile is akin to be a long-suffering Cubs fan in Chicago. The new documentary Red Eyes, directed by Juan Pablo Sallato, Juan Ignacio Sabatini, and Ismael Larrain MacClure and playing as a part of the 2011 Seattle International Film Festival, profiles the struggle of the Chilean national soccer team to qualify for the World Cup.

The film begins by showing Chile’s defeat in 2006, by not even getting to go to the World Cup competition in Korea. This is where some backstory comes up, profiling how they have not garnered a World Cup win since 1962. Then the rest of the story follows their two year battle to make it into the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

While we are usually unaccustomed to the passion that the rest of the world shows for soccer, in most other countries it is a part of their national identity. In particular, Chile having a lackluster team is shown to reflect how the citizenry views itself. Their economy is depressed and so are their spirits. They all feel their team echoes this broken will in their style of play. Many people interviewed talk about how the soccer team just tends to give up before the game is over. However, this time around the prospects are better.

While there is definitely a compelling movie to be made about this story, Red Eyes is not it. It is shot on grainy digital cameras, presumably for budgetary reasons. This makes the whole affair murky, lackluster, and have the overall feeling of outtakes from an ESPN 3 highlight reel. Also, I tend to like more soccer in my soccer. There is way too much footage of the team either walking from the locker room to the field or vice versa. But once a match that is being profiled starts, they cut away to either results or the next match. There are lots of people telling us how the team plays, but not a lot of showing us that play.

Also, especially when it comes to the team members, there are no identifying labels or introductions of who is speaking. We never learn who these people are. The whole movie ends up being a parade of earnest handsome young men talking about their hopes for the team. And we never hear any interviews with the coaches outside of press conferences. It’s almost like reading one of those unauthorized biographies of someone famous where you have to speculate about what firsthand knowledge of them would be like. Probably most frustrating, since there isn’t a lot of context between scenes, is that when we do get brief glimpses of the soccer matches themselves (there are about 12 profiled), they have no impact. When the Chilean team wins, it doesn’t feel any different than when they lose. The audience is left with a feeling of  “Oh, another soccer game happened.”

This documentary is aggravating. It has its heart in the right place by profiling a genuine struggle by an underdog team to achieve the highest level of their game. And those involved seem genuine. But with lackluster film making, we are left with not enough knowledge of the players. Thus we are left unable to truly empathize with either the team or the sports hopes of the Chilean people.

Red Eyes screens Monday, May 23 at 4:30 at Seattle’s Harvard Exit theater.

Final Grade: C-


I'm a family man who got his Drama degree back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and now works at a desk. I love movies of all kinds, and I am still working my way through the list of 1001 movies you must see before you die.

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