From the very beginning of Flare I had circled Mario, a film about gay footballers. I like football, have a soft spot for romantic dramas and, quite importantly, wanted to watch a Swiss film that was not Heidi. I’m glad to report that the film, directed by Marcel Gisler and co-written with Thomas Hess, delivered a nice surprise and I daresay is the most enjoyable film I have seen at the festival yet.
Rap blares down the corridor of the FC Young Boys, a real Swiss team based in Bern that kindly lent its name to the film. New boy Leon (Aaron Altaras) has transferred from Germany and his antics on the pitch, hogging the ball and generally being a bit quiet, is defended only by the titular Mario (Max Hubacher) who bonds with him initially as his teammate and fellow striker. The coach insists that they share a house as a way for them to synchronise (after all, they play 4-4-2) and the two men find quiet solace in their little flat, away from the laddish changing rooms and lush green pitches.
As a romantic drama, the film excels. The dynamic between Mario and Leon is very believable - impressive considering both actors are straight - and the slow build up to their relationship is captured beautifully as they play video games on the sofa, Leon glancing tentatively at Mario’s back, poking him in the side teasingly and finally landing a shy kiss. The writer plays with the idea of pushes and pulls well, structuring the film in the same vein a relationship goes through a roller coaster of emotions; Mario constantly dips between his comfort with Leon and reluctance knowing that this affair is not going to be accepted in professional football, and on more than one occasion he’s willing to pretend there’s nothing going on with Leon even though Leon is quick to admit he is in love. The ebbs and flows work well in parts, using efficient short scenes that lack an intro and outro, but at 119 minutes there are moments of tediousness that drag on, particularly in the last act. On the plus side, the tone of the film is remains consistent, toeing the line between the stark reality and naturalistic touches of humour that come out of awkward misunderstandings and ironic lines such as “I don’t have a problem with the issue.”
Needless to say, there is a clear commentary on the lack of LGBTQ representation within men’s football. Why is this the case? It’s touched upon when Mario and Leon are called into individual meetings with their respective agents after rumours fly that they are gay. The representative for FC Young Boys’ board insists that gay players would be poison for sponsorship and fans alike, effectively forcing the duo to find fake girlfriends for cover. This fear of both monetary and community backlash seems to be the biggest issue, also mentioned by Swedish footballer Anton Hysen, who came out as gay in 2011. Gisler mentioned in his Q&A that, although the scene cast the club in a negative light, the representative of FC Young Boys allowed the scene to be included because he believed this is how things would pan out should there be gay players on the team. Hardly what you want to hear, but no doubt this is a reflection on the institutionalised prejudice in the game.
By the end of the film, it becomes evident that Mario looks to ask the age old question: do you choose who you love, or what you love? Mario has finally made it, scoring a goal in front of the home crowd, but he’s sacrificed so much to get to this stage and honestly doesn’t seem too sure that he’s made the right choice, but the damage is done and the only way is forward.
- Xiao Tang