SAN SEBASTIAN — Two of Latin America’s most reputed actors, both mainstay’s of Pablo Larraín movies, Chile’s Alfredo Castro (“Tony Manero,” “Far Away, “Los Perros”) and Luis Gnecco (“Neruda,” “Much Ado About Nothing”) are attached to star in “The Saddest Goal.”
Lead-produced by Macarena Lopez’s Manufactura de Películas (“Rara”) and co-produced by Mexico’s Lucia Films, headed by Michel Franco (“After Lucia,” “Chronic,” “April’s Daughter”), “The Saddest Goal” is a standout project at San Sebastián’s Europe-Latin America Co-production Market, which runs Sept. 24-27.
Deborah Osborn’s Sao Paulo based Big Bonzai (“Dominguihos”) will co-produce out of Brazil.
Carrying Pablo Larrain’s breakthrough “Tony Manero,” Castro has shown large range and an ability to play nuanced characters staring, or constituting key cast, in Larrain’s “Post Mortem,” “No” and “The Club,” Venice Golden Lion winner “From Afar” and most recently Marcela Said’s “Los Perros,” where he portrays a ex-Chilean colonel under investigation for human rights violations under Pinochet, who emerges as one of the least hypocritical of the deeply compromised characters in the drama.
Gnecco broke through last year with “Neruda,” a meditation on the attractions of fame and immortality where he plays in what is generally regarded as Larrain’s greatest Spanish-language achievement. In the film he delivers a virtuoso performance as the Nobel Prize-winning, brothel-creeping though politically committed poet who seizes his opportunity to seal his political legend when a warrant goes out for his arrest. But, the Chilean actor already stole the show in Alejandro Fernandez-Almendras’ “Much Ado About Nothing” as a connected, menacing attorney who puts the protagonist in his social place.
In “The Saddest Goal,” Castro and Gnecco will face off in a fiction feature chronicle which lifts the lid on one of the most damning episodes in World Cup soccer history, and indeed that of its governing body, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA).
Castro plays the trainer of Chile’s national soccer team, drafted in at short notice for the crunch two-leg knock-out match between Chile and the Soviet Union, with a passport to the 1974 finals. But, Chile’s first leg takes place in Moscow just two weeks after Augusto Pinochet’s coup’d’état on Sept. 26 1973. With the Soviet Union now a Cold War enemy, players threatened with retaliation if they talk about politics, and several under threat of arrest as known slickest sympathizers. Gneiss portrays the president of the Chilean soccer federation, who tries desperately to avoid the return leg being played in Chile’s National Stadium that was being used as a detention and torture center by Pinochet’s regime, to no avail. The Soviet Union team never traveled to Chile. The second match is described as a “game beyond metaphor, evil real,” by David Goldblatt in his Global History of Soccer as the Chilean team takes to the field in the National Stadium in a match approved by FIFA, who inspected the stadium with political detainees as onlookers, and unopposed, symbolically score a goal.
“The casting in ‘The Saddest Goal’ is very important because it’s a film of characters, who think they’re playing a game and end up trapped in larger political game,” said producer Lopez, whose credits include co-producing Alicia Scherson’s first feature “Play” (2005). a film which helped bring down the flag on Novissimo Cine Chileno and Scherson’s “Tourists” (2009) before creating her own company Manufactura de Películas. Its first production “Rara,” won the Berlinale’s Generation Plus Grand Prix.
As their international careers lift off, both Castro and Gnecco are toplining movies across Latin America, Castro wrapped earlier this year on “Museum,” starring opposite Gael Garcia Bernal in the anticipated second feature of Mexican director Alfonzo Ruizpalacios. Gnecco has just co-starred in Argentine Luis Ortega’s “El Angel,” backed by three of the highest-profile independent production houses: Pedro and Agustín Almodóvar’s El Deseo in Madrid and K & S Films (“Wild Tales,” “The Clan”) and Underground (“El Marginal,” “The Cockfighter”) in Buenos Aires.
“I feel very privileged to be producing in Chile when it now has international name actors,” Lopez said, citing Castro, Gnecco and Paulina Garcia, who won a best actress Silver Bear for Sebastián Lelio’s “Gloria” and co-starred in Ira Sach’s 2016 Sundance premiere “Little Men.”
“The Saddest Goal” narrates something never portrayed before in Chilean cinema,” Castro said: “Forced obedience. The trainer, Zorro Alamos and all the players are made very aware that they must win, playing under a perverse threat of death in the case of not participating in the new “order” of Pinochet and his high command.”
Gnecco pointed up the emotional and ethical dilemma at the heart of the film: On one hand, “The possibility of being in a World Cup, and representing your country”; and on the other: “Having to do so as the official team of a dictatorship. There is a ferocious challenge for the protagonists of this story. who must be equal to their responsibility, and decide between rebelling or submitting to a violent power which forces them to score the saddest goal in history.”