The sports movie chestnut of the Little Team That Could is tritely replayed in “Provence United.” Director Ori Inbar creates a vivid sense of place with action situated in the small southern Israeli town of Givat-Tzurim, but mundane handling of soccer matches and dramatic detail, keeps a merely competent film from being able to cash in on the sudden global soccer movie craze. Israel Academy Awards for lead Ze’ev Ravach and the supporting Itay Turgeman are a mark of pic’s local regard, but best offshore chances are in select vid and cable markets.
Living in a backwater and coaching an appropriately low-grade soccer club, Kassodas (Ravach) seems at once to be happy to settle for what he has — which includes running the town’s only hotel — yet eager to get back in some way at the big-city guys he once played with in Tel Aviv. His life is further complicated by his star player Shlomi (Turgeman), who in dutiful sports pic fashion is both extremely talented and a punk. Shlomi makes it all look too easy on the field, and will do anything to get ahead, and this includes evading his compulsory military duty.
Once established, though, these potentially rich characters — as Yuval Friedman has written them — don’t go very far. Instead, “Provence United” gradually gets bogged down with too many extraneous story strands, a chain of predictable obstacles and impossibly Capra-esque plot turns — such as a national soccer lottery that has Kassodas’ team playing the Tel Aviv squad in what must be the biggest mismatch in Israel’s soccer history.
Shlomi’s teammates and friends receive nearly as much screen time as he does, including emotionally distraught Shuki (Eli Eltonyo), and Moti (Moshe Folendflik), who dreams of living in the French Provence countryside. The bittersweet conclusion is about the only time when sports formulas are dropped for something more incisive, but by then, it’s much too late in the match.
Ravach suggests Philippe Noiret’s world-weariness as the coach; Turgeman can’t manage to steal the movie as the prickly athlete. Production is distinguished by Dror Moreh’s crisp lensing.