FIFA movie ‘United Passions’ to hit US box office

FIFA-financed film about Sepp Blatter’s heroic leadership of world soccer’s governing body hits US cinemas as scandal continues to rock organisation

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

A FIFA financed movie about the history of the FIFA  starring Tim Roth, Sam Neill and Gerard Depardieu is coming to the box office with perfect timing.  

The film "United Passions," in which British actor Tim Roth portrays FIFA president Sepp Blatter, does not hit American cinema screens until Friday, but whether it sinks - as it did in Europe - or swims it has at least one immortal line:

"Blatter is apparently good at finding money," a voice intones on the trailer for the film which industry website IMDB says will have its US launch on June 5.

Heavily financed by FIFA and meant to show it as a force for good - and Blatter as the Maradona of scoring sponsorships - "United Passions" was born under a different star than the black one hovering over world soccer's governing body.

U.S. prosecutors have launched a fraud and corruption investigation of FIFA, which was announced to the world by the early-morning arrests of several FIFA officials in Zurich last week.

There were more arrests this week and on Tuesday, Blatter announced his resignation, four days after being re-elected as FIFA president and shortly before it emerged that he too was under investigation by U.S. law enforcement.

This is not the kind of real-world trailer that FIFA had envisaged for its movie which, according to IMDB, had an estimated budget of 24 million euros ($27 million), of which FIFA officials have acknowledged providing about 20 million.

"FIFA has been considering the production of a feature film about its history for some time, dating back to 2004 when FIFA was approached with a concept to coincide (with) our centennial celebrations," FIFA says in a post on its website explaining why it helped finance the film when the producers came cap in hand.

"FIFA then agreed to contribute, considering this to be a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the breadth of FIFA’s work to develop football globally. 'United Passions' allows FIFA to highlight the challenges involved in establishing the FIFA World Cup in order to turn it into the world’s biggest single sporting event."

Directed by France's Frederic Auburtin, the film casts Gerard Depardieu as Jules Rimet, the FIFA president who launched the World Cup, and Sam Neill as Joao Havelange, who as FIFA's second longest serving president signed up developing nations as members - and ran into bribery issues of his own.

Critics who saw it at the Cannes film festival in 2014 dismissed it as a hagiography of Blatter and his predecessors and it sank like a stone in limited release in soccer-mad Europe. On its opening weekend in Hungary last year it took in just under $8,000 on 27 screens, IMDB says.

Director Auburtin could not be reached for comment through his Paris-based agent, but in an interview with the New York Times this week he said he would have preferred to look deeper into the underside of FIFA.

“But I accept the job,” he said. “I know FIFA is producing the film. As we say in France, don’t be more royalist than the king: Don’t be the king if you are not the king.”

Roth also was not available for interviews, his publicist said in an email. But the "Pulp Fiction" actor told The Times of London last year that he had done a doubletake when he saw the script.

"I was like, 'Where's all the corruption in the script?'" Roth told the Times. "Where is all the back-stabbing, the deals? So it was a tough one. I tried to slide in a sense of it, as much as I could get in there."

Auburtin said he also had slipped some "subtext" into the film, such as an envelope, presumably containing cash, that is seen tucked into a fruit bowl.

It was not enough to assuage the critics.

"The sheer self-regard inherent in this project is breathtaking," Irish Times film critic Donald Clarke wrote recently. "What sort of men would think that any sane person would seek out a film eulogising a sport’s governing body. Men in blazers?"