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‘The Champion’ Heartily Exudes the Hair-Raising Magic of Football While Standing Tall as an Excellent Sports Drama

3 August 2020


‘The Champion’ Heartily Exudes the Hair-Raising Magic of Football While Standing Tall as an Excellent Sports Drama

Christian is an extremely talented as well as unpredictable football player. After his latest screw-up, the president of his team decides to assign him a personal tutor, to help him in controlling his temper. Valerio is a shy and solitary professor, the exact opposite of the champion. Sparks will fly between the two at first, but soon their relationship will change both for the better.

Director: Leonardo D’Agostini

Cast: Stefano Accorsi, Andrea Carpenzano, Massimo Popolizio, Anita Caprioli, Mario Sgueglia, 

Year: 2019

Country: Italy

Language: Italian

Runtime: 105 minutes

The Champion might be the perfect fill to tide football fans over as the sport takes a hiatus. The Italian film is more than capable of ensnaring fans with its showcase of the excitement of football, while readily illuminating its darker yet all-too-familiar facets. Non-fans would not feel left out either with the film’s superb leading performances giving way to an overall skillful execution of a well-trodden formula.

The sports drama entwines the lives of 20-year-old superstar footballer Christian (Andrea Carpenzano) with broken-down teacher Valerio (Stefano Accorsi). Despite earning millions a year while being a bonafide sporting hero, Christian finds himself unable to escape his troubled background, engaging in petty crimes and recklessly throwing himself into fights both on and off the pitch. Looking to change his ways and give him an education, the chairman of Christian’s team places him under the tutelage of Valerio.

It’s a story we have seen a thousand times before: two broken, deeply troubled people changing each other’s lives for the better. Still, there are enough bells and whistles to keep The Champion captivating.

In between the pair’s growing relationship is a sharp commentary on celebrity culture and its effects on young stars. Even police officers, after arresting Christian for yet another delinquency, cannot resist a selfie with the sports hero. It takes Valerio, who is completely insulated from football fanaticism, to identify the roots of the problem and be an agent of change. It’s a subplot that isn’t exactly subtle with its approach, but one that most could latch onto with its wide relevancy. 

Balancing the relatively gloomy side of the story is the razzle-dazzle inherent with football. The jargon is kept to a minimum, allowing the physicality of training montages and matches to discharge the sport’s hair-raising magic. 

Meanwhile, the glitz of stardom with the endless photoshoots, army of sports cars, and Christian’s inability to be incognito on the streets could be an enticing fantasy for fans and aspiring footballers. These scenes, in particular, are carried along by the delightful appearances of Christian’s fast-talking manager Nico (Mario Sgueglia) with his wonderful balance of craftiness and charm. 

Beyond the appealing flashiness, what is at the bleeding heart of The Champion is its leading performances. Carpenzano distills his character’s genuine love for football into something infectious, while convincingly embodying his troubling flaws and turning them into low points the audience desperately wants him to avoid slinking towards. At the same time, he does a magnificent job in showing just how even superstars on the pitch fall victim to peer pressure and awkward first dates.

Armed with an impressive range, Accorsi’s portrayal of Valerio is an absolute showstopper. Christian’s passion for football is only matched by Valerio’s passion to teach – this is helped by the film’s refreshing focus on actual teaching techniques. True to the grizzled mentor trope, Accorsi infuses an appealing depth of edge that does provide fun twists, while giving more than enough reasons for why he seems to be the only one to get through to Christian.

Both share a significant amount of screen time together, forging a connection that I did not want to see being by the end credits. Together, they ride through a flurry of ups and downs that – thanks to the pair’s performance – may turn on the waterworks by the film’s end.

Director Leonardo D’Agostini keeps the film flush with a clean sheen of modernity sparkled by the soft lights of Rome. It’s an aesthetic that should be appealing to its main audience of young football fanatics. This, especially, with a solid soundtrack sporting a mix of high tempo rock and electronic beats familiar with the popular FIFA video game series should solidify this appeal. Meanwhile, the understated camera work does a good job in highlighting the well of emotions supplied by its all-around excellent cast, leading to a drama that stands tall even without its football focus.

The Champion comes from a place of love. It highlights the very best of what makes both the sport and its players so fascinating while critiquing the hollowness and cutthroat nature of its business side. The solid emotional foundation the film forges out of the spectacular leading performances also positions it as an appealing character study for those unfamiliar with the sport. The Champion is a solid sports drama that may not reinvent the wheel, but does a superb job in representing the very best parts of the genre.

Premiered online for one night only, The Champion was the opening film of the Virtual Italian Film Festival. While the excellent sports drama will not be available, the film festival, together with Projector Plus, will be offering a slew of the very best from Italy. Check out the catalogue of films available for rental streaming here.

Still, do keep an eye out for The Champion! Watch the film’s trailer below:

About The Virtual Italian Film Festival

Jointly presented by the Embassy of Italy in Singapore and The Projector, this year’s edition of the Italian Film Festival brings together a delectable selection of critically acclaimed comedies, dramas and arthouse releases. These films will be available on The Projector’s newly launched Projector Plus service from now till 30 September 2020.

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There's nothing Matt loves more than "so bad, they're good" movies. Except browsing through crates of vinyl records. And Mexican food.