Chile's biggest homegrown theatrical hit last year (alongside romantic comedy "Fuck My Life"), "Red Eyes" charts the country's surprisingly strong showing in 2010's World Cup soccer tournament -- a turnabout after decades of disappointment.

Chile’s biggest homegrown theatrical hit last year (alongside romantic comedy “Fuck My Life”), “Red Eyes” charts the country’s surprisingly strong showing in 2010′s World Cup soccer tournament — a turnabout after decades of disappointment. Though it ultimately conveys the widespread joy that success triggers, this very artfully assembled feature goes deeper than a simple triumph-over-the-odds sports docu to probe a nation’s own insecurities as reflected in an obsessive love/hate attitude toward a team whose failings get raked over at least as zealously as its triumphs. Soccer fans should find “Red Eyes” compelling in various formats worldwide.

While we’re used to egomaniacal bravado from world-class athletes and their minders, what’s immediately striking here is how humble — to the point of self-defeatism — Chile’s national soccer team, La Rojo, is, despite boasting some outstanding players. Rather than hyping them or goading them to excel, coaching and management assure them that winning is a thing to be hoped for, and spokesmen publicly admit Chilean football is “just so-so,” while grimly apologizing after each loss to a local media that seems almost more energized pouncing on defeats than celebrating achievement.

This attitude carries over to fans, who echo an oft-heard sentiment that the team “walks in already defeated” at matches — an attitude amplifying feelings toward the nation itself as both a beloved homeland and an underperforming also-ran overshadowed by wealthier, more powerful neighbors. The amount of public abuse to which the team is routinely subjected lends the squeals of exultant pride that greet their rising fortunes a somewhat bitterly ironic taste. (To distill that contradiction, the filmmakers follow one veteran radio sportscaster, Sergio Riquelme, who goes from cynically trashing La Rojo to hysterically singing its praises without batting an eye at his hypocrisy.)

Not as experimental as 2006 French soccer docu “Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait,” but likewise daring in style and technique for the genre, “Red Eye” mixes man-on-the-street interviews and broadcast clips as well as views of the players training, in the locker room and on the field at matches. (The intensity of competition is heightened in one instance by reducing the soundtrack to a single athlete’s huffing breath.) There’s palpable mass intoxication when the team qualifies for the knockout stage of the 2010 Cup, held in South Africa, no matter the outcome. Yet much of the docu has a melancholy tone, abetted by Camilo Salinas and Juan Antonio Sanchez’s spectral score.

Tech/design aspects are first-rate and often adventurous.

Red Eyes

Chile

Production

An Entel presentation in association with ANFP and 13 UC. (International sales: Odin's Eye Entertainment, Sydney.) Produced by Tomas Macan, Rodrigo Arellano, Tomas Irarrazaval, Sebastian Kohan. Executive producers, Paz Urrutia, Ignacio Ureta. Directed by Juan Ignacio Sabatini, Juan Pablo Sallato, Ismael Larrain. Screenplay, Galut Alarcon.

Crew

Camera (color, HD to DigiBeta), Sabatini, Sallato, Larrain; editor, Alarcon; music, Camilo Salinas, Juan Antonio Sanchez; sound (Dolby Digital), Javier Berazaluce; sound designer, Cristian Freund. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, June 7, 2011. (In Seattle Film Festival; 2010 Montreal World Film Festival.) Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Marcelo Bielsa, Claudio Bravo, Jorge Valdivia, Alexis Sanchez, Humberto Suazo, Liniers, Jorge Valdano, Sergio Riquelme.
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