French actor Gerard Depardieu (L) and FIFA President Sepp Blatter give a thumbs-up as they arrive for the screening of the film 'United Passions' at the 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes.
FIFA 'propaganda film' opens amid scandal
02:12 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

FIFA feature film opens to dismal reviews in U.S.

It stars Tim Roth, Sam Neill and Gerard Depardieu

Scandal-hit soccer body contributed most of budget

CNN  — 

Even “Mad Men’s” Don Draper might have balked at the prospect of trying to promote a feature film about FIFA at the very moment the organization was engulfed by serious allegations of widespread corruption.

A full year after it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, FIFA’s multi-million dollar biopic, “United Passions,” went on limited release at cinemas across the U.S. this weekend.

And it’s fair to say the reviews for the film, which stars Tim Roth, Sam Neill and Gerard Depardieu haven’t been kind.

“Pure cinematic excrement” and “preposterous hagiography,” says the Guardian.

The New York Times calls it “one of the most unwatchable films in recent memory, a dishonest bit of corporate-suite sanitizing that’s not good even for laughs.”

No more sparing, the New York Post writes of a film that’s “tedious, amateurish and hilariously ill-timed.”

Now, the U.S. movie-going public has had its first say.

Unsurprisingly, few seem to be buying the opinion of FIFA general secretary, Jerome Valcke, who wrote in a letter to colleagues last year that the picture displayed “an open self-critical and highly enjoyable way the origins of FIFA.”

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the movie took in a paltry $607 when it was screened at 10 U.S. cinemas over the weekend. One theater in Phoenix recorded a gross take of just $9, which means only one person paid to watch United Passions there.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the UK’s Independent newspaper had already reported in October 2014 that the movie had recouped just $190,000 in its first six months of release in selected countries.

It’s highly unlikely that the film’s poor performance will concern FIFA given it holds a reported $1.5 billion in cash reserves.

But even the FIFA bean counters must be feeling a little red-faced at just how badly United Passions has done, especially as little expense was spared making it.

“FIFA has contributed EUR 20 million ($22.2 million) to the film, the total cost of which is EUR 23.5 million ($26.1 million),” FIFA told CNN in an email.

“The costs have come out of the budget of the 2014 World Cup, which is contained in the Financial Report 2009 and was approved by the 2010 FIFA Congress.”

Given the stench of scandal that has enveloped world football’s governing body over the past 10 days, the rotten tomatoes and one-star reviews being afforded its silver screen project is probably the least of its worries.

U.S. prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for top FIFA executives on charges of bribery, money laundering, fraud and racketeering in recent weeks.

Swiss authorities have also opened separate investigations around the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.

Yet the question remains just why big screen luminaries such as Roth, Neill and Depardieu agreed to take part in a project almost exclusively paid for by an organization long been dogged by corruption allegations and a lack of transparency.

“Did FIFA, the film’s producer, have something it could use to blackmail the actors,” questioned the Post.

Roth plays the recently elected FIFA president and alleged star of an ongoing FBI investigation Sepp Blatter, Neill takes on the role of Blatter’s predecessor Joao Havelange while Depardieu is given the part of FIFA’s third chief, Jules Rimet.

The film charts the reigns of each president and largely ignores matters on the field for the drama of boardroom.

Or, as David Rudin describes it in U.S. quarterly soccer magazine, Howler, “an actuarial exercise masquerading as a film. It is the story of successive generations of FIFA officials attempting to secure and manage the organization’s finances.”

Slightly more forcefully, the Hollywood Reporter states “the film presents a whitewashed portrait of the organization that has long been known for its shady business dealings and rampant corruption.”

CNN sent interview requests to the representatives of Roth, Neil, Depardieu and the movie’s director, Frederic Auburtin but none were willing to commit before publication.

However, the New York Times was more fortunate in at least pinning down Auburtin on the topic last week.

The 42-year-old, who has previously directed popular films such as Paris Je T’aime, said he had “no regrets,” but bemoaned the lack of artistic license available to him in making the project.

“I didn’t have the freedom to do a Michael Moore movie at all,” Auburtin told the Times. “If I started the movie with flashlights and sirens coming to Zurich, like what happened last Wednesday – I knew if we would write any line like this, everyone would say: ‘What are you doing, man? Come on.’”

“Every time we are showing something about Blatter himself, it’s very, very difficult because the guy is the boss,” he said. “The guy is co-producing more than half the film, nearly 80%.”

Still, Aubertin, who told the Times he has moved on to researching his next feature film, did give the paper perhaps one of the kinder reviews his picture has received.

“It’s not such crap,” he said.

Read: Sepp Blatter’s resignation speech in full

Read: Could Russia, Qatar lose World Cups?