Balls are kicked and women are wooed in “Montevideo: Taste of a Dream,” which recounts the unruly origins of Serbia’s top 1930s soccer duo. As in Teuton hit “The Miracle of Bern,” this polished but predictable directorial debut from thesp Dragan Bjelogric uses the lead-up to a historic match to explore the national psyche in the aftermath of war. Though the pic’s political dimensions are mostly lost in translation, the protracted locker-room and bedroom rivalries are familiar enough to transcend any language barrier. Serbia’s foreign-language Oscar submission was a socko scorer at home and could interest soccer-film fans elsewhere.
Like “Bern,” “Montevideo” uses a soccer-crazy young boy who ends up being the mascot to a promising new player as the audience’s entry into the story. Little Stanoje (Predrag Vasic) is a shoeshiner with only one good leg and an oversized newsie cap. The urchin takes a shine to Tirke (Milos Bikovic), the resident soccer whiz in his poor Belgrade neighborhood. When Tirke is invited to join the Belgrade Sports Club (BSC), he’s on his way to stardom and participation in the sport’s first World Cup, skedded to happen in the titular Uruguayan capital in 1930.
Tirke’s biggest rival is BSC’s star, womanizer Mosha (Petar Strugar), who plays the same position as Tirke and sees him as an opponent rather than a teammate. It’s up to the bumbling, newly appointed trainer (Nebojsa Ilic) to try and instill some team spirit in these boys, whose head-butting also extends to the affections of a newly arrived countryside beauty (Danina Jeftic) and her big-city counterpart (Nina Jankovic).
Adapted by Srdjan Dragojevic and Ranko Bozic from the novel by sports journo Vladimir Stankovic, the screenplay rather dutifully works its way toward the obligatory big-game finale. The boys’ awkward understanding of the opposite sex, as well as such period details as the emergence of radio coverage of soccer games, provide some humor, though throughout there never seems to be too much at stake, especially since the outcome is historical fact. After two-thirds of its supersized 145-minute running time, the episodic film starts to feel repetitive.
One of the picture’s most interesting elements — an exploration of nationalist sentiments during the interbellum, as seen through the prism of soccer and the World Cup’s need for national teams — will be mostly lost on foreign auds who have no prior knowledge of the ethnic and political divisions that existed in the then-Kingdom of Yugoslavia. And the difference between BSC and the Yugoslavian national team is never clearly delineated.
Two elements nonetheless keep the film watchable: its impressive, sepia-toned, nostalgia-fueled period detail (which works emotionally even though it’s not always accurate), and the work of the fresh-faced actors, no doubt handpicked by former thesp Bjelogric. Bikovic and Strugar have great chemistry and are energetic performers on and off the field, with lenser Goran Volarevic ensuring that the actors’ technical prowess is showcased properly. Ensemble is equally solid — and handsome.
A sequel is already in the works.