Anational obsession with soccer links three diverse short narratives in “Football Stories,” a variable but sprightly and confident omnibus feature. While a bit slight to tempt export beyond Latin American territories, pic should play well on the fest circuit and provide a solid leg up for promising tyro helmer Andres Wood. It scored a major B.O. hit at home earlier this summer.
The three tales range geographically and otherwise, but all share a certain raffish, deadpan tenor. The first (“Don’t Fall for That”) is set in urban Santiago, where cocky minor-league soccer player Gonzalez (Daniel Munoz) gets a chance at the big time — or so his team’s sleazy, goodfellas-type manager promises. All Gonzalez has to do is avoid scoring a goal for one game. The public humiliation this “fix” entails, however, proves more than he can stand. Rebelling, he earns the crowd’s adulation — and a subsequent beating that requires hospitalization.
Second segment, “The Last Goal Wins,” set in a dusty burg in northern Chile, follows a group of poor kids who can’t pony up the ticket cost to enter a stadium game. Sitting listlessly outside, they’re delighted when a pro-quality ball pops over the wall from the field. Chubby, blustery Pablo (Manuel Aguilar) wins its ownership in a belching contest. The next day he’s supposed to pawn his impoverished mother’s last object of a value (a framed Last Supper scene) to put food on the table. But this errand is interrupted by a long soccer match with other neighborhood kids — and at its end, the money is missing. Though executed sans overt sentimentality, this seg is the least interesting by far; we figure out early on that Pablo will hock his beloved new ball for Mama’s sake. Nothing else significant happens, nor are central child actors particularly compelling.
Final chapter, however, is just as clearly the pic’s best. “The Passion of Crowds” has collegiate city boy Francisco (Nestor Cantillana) stuck on a remote southern island after visiting his brother nearby. Desperate to see Chile’s World Cup–qualifying match with Germany, he accepts a suspicious invitation from two odd, witchy rural sisters (Maria Izquierdo, Elsa Poblete) who claim they have a working TV in their home. Francisco is joined by three other male islanders, and the subsequent festivities get pretty strange, fueled by much wine, a brutal rainstorm and the two middle-aged spinsters’ long-dormant but suddenly raging carnality. Much wilder in content than the prior segs, this miniature is the film’s gem.
Essentially, “Football Stories” is a breezy salute to the Chilean character, with no serious political or moral ideas advanced. While lensing is mostly unexceptional, helmer Wood maintains a hip tenor via astute pacing, performances and soundtrack-music choices. The stories themselves may be lightweight, but there’s never any doubt that their droll tone has been carefully, and ably, honed.