The Netflix biopic sets out to explore the ‘man behind the football,’ but captures neither the essence of the man, nor of football
The legend of Roberto Baggio is enshrined within Italian footballing folklore. Despite an injury-ridden career, the 1993 Ballon d’Or winner is known to the country as Raffaello del calcio; the Raphael of football. “I would like people, from the movie about me, to understand the difficulties faced, the importance of reaching the end of the path and being satisfied with what has been done,” Baggio said about the film in an interview with la Repubblica. However, director Letizia Lamartire’s film, made with consultation from the footballer, lacks several key ingredients of a good biopic… most importantly, a clear story.
We are introduced to young Baggio as the film begins, setting out to achieve the dream of scoring a goal against Brazil in a world cup final. The narrative ‘path’ is set — the story is attempted to be told in a literal three act structure — Baggio’s time in Fiorentina, in the Italian national team and in Brescia, giving the audience glimpses of his personal life. However, the mammoth task the film undertakes, of cramming about two decades of a footballer’s life, into the short duration of the film, is its greatest downfall.
Baggio: The Divine Ponytail has a hard time convincing the viewers about its seriousness. In trying to portray the various struggles that the protagonist has to navigate, the narrative loses direction. Is it about a father accepting his son’s ambitions? Is it about the player’s struggle to overcome the serious injuries that plagued his career? Or is it about the spiritual journey which helped Baggio overcome the trauma and emotional pain of not being able to fulfil his ‘destiny’?
Baggio: The Divine Ponytail
- Director: Letizia Lamartire
- Cast: Andrea Arcangeli, Valentina Bellè, Thomas Trabacchi, Antonio Zavatteri
- Duration: 91 minutes
- Storyline: A coming-of-age story of the legendary Italian footballer Roberto Baggio
Then, there are the other important incidents from his career that the film ignores, such as the miraculous recovery from the early injury that Baggio faced at the age of 18. After tearing both the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the meniscus of right knee, the young Italian’s football career was shrouded in doubt as the doctors put 220 stitches without anti-inflammatory drugs because of his allergies. The tragic incident led him to famously plead to his mother, “If you love me, then kill me.”
The script also entirely glosses over his successful stints at Juventus where he won European Footballer of the Year and FIFA World Player of the Year awards, and A.C. Milan where he claimed, “There is no place for poets in modern football,” after being dropped from the team. The absence of these parts leaves a gaping hole that is jarring for the audience.
The biopic instead chooses to focus on the relationship between Baggio and national team manager Arrigo Sacchi. Although these are some of the better fleshed-out conflicts of the film, it is only so because of the ease with which it slides into the in-sports-everything-is-forgotten cliche. The film also makes a poor representation of Buddhist philosophies, reducing it to cliched self-help mantras and a matter of self-reliance, instead of exploring the nuances and the character’s connection with it.
Director Lamartire’s early education in music shines through the film with her choice of songs and music as background scores. The film alludes to classic American rock bands such as The Eagles and features a soundtrack comprising Vasco Rossi, The Black Keys and Oasis as well as an original song on Roberto Baggio written for the film by Italian singer-songwriter Diodato.
The editing of the film, which blends original footage with recreated scenes, is sharp and commendable. The camerawork is also recognisably smooth, alternating between long shots and medium closeups. For a character-based story, however, it is surprising to see a lack of close-ups.
The acting by Andrea Arcangeli and Valentina Bellè severely suffers because of the sub-par script. The characters don’t seem to be affected as much as they should be when faced with repeated adversity. This makes it more difficult for the audience to empathise with the characters.
“Time has been sucked away, “ the protagonist claims, as his monologue runs over the climatic scene of the 1994 World Cup final penalty shoot-out, “You don’t understand where you are, what’s happening.” Like Baggio, the expectation of the film perhaps has greater spirit than what it delivers. The lines sum up how the audience would feel at times with this biopic which is a fitting viewing for children looking for momentary inspiration.
Baggio: The Divine Ponytail is currently streaming on Netflix