“The Other Final” immortalizes preparations leading to the “alternative” 2002 World Cup soccer match between the two lowest-ranked teams on Earth, the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan and the Caribbean island of Montserrat, Nos. 202 and 203 in the official FIFA soccer listing. Infectiously entertaining docu has been racking up praise and prizes wherever it’s shown, and is an exquisite antidote to the bluster and power-mongering of the big guys on the world stage. As no prior familiarity with or interest in soccer is needed to enjoy it, this smartly lensed ode to sportsmanship and cross-cultural camaraderie is ideal tube fare.
When Holland failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup in Japan, Dutch ad agency partners Johan Kramer and Matthijs de Jongh hit upon the idea of treating also-rans like front-runners, in hopes of answering the question “Which is the worst soccer team on Earth?”
De Jongh handled the organizing — creating from scratch an event involving two countries that had scarcely heard of each other — and Kramer, a vet of some 150 commercials making his first feature, handled the filming.
Documakers sent out faxes suggesting a non-profit, non-commercial meet between the two localities which, on the surface, had nothing in common except a sufficient number of citizens familiar with the rules of professional soccer to constitute a team.
Montserrat is a Caribbean island with seven active volcanoes, one of which wiped out the capital — and the island’s only soccer field. The place relies almost completely on British aid, and cricket is the national sport.
The small kingdom of Bhutan, at 8,500 feet above sea level, has been independent throughout its known history. A serene official asserts daily life is geared toward achieving GNH: Gross National Happiness. The country’s national sport is archery.
As funny as it is educational, docu manages to incorporate deadpan humor without ever mocking its subjects. For every display of dignity and rigor, there’s a playful counterpart. “We have 24 dressing rooms, one for each player,” explains the police officer who coaches the Montserrat team. “It’s called home.”
Days before the match, held for a few thousand people in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu, on June 30 — the same date as the final between Brazil and Germany that was viewed by more than a billion people — both teams lost their coaches, half the Montserrat players fell sick with a virus and no referees had been found.
Filmmakers’ commercials background serves the docu well, as they give their “product” a boost and then let it speak for itself. Viewers leave the theater feeling as if they’ve visited the two countries concerned, as well as enjoyed a casually effective testimony to the beauty of athletic competition sans promotional support.