As a nipper he'd watch Italian football on TV with his dad. Now he's signed for Inter Milan at 17, and the hallowed turf of the San Siro beckons. Earning a shedload of money, Swedish teenager Martin Bengtsson is living every boy's dream. Well, not exactly, as it turns out.
Adapted from Bengtsson’s own memoir, with all the other characters (presumably for legal reasons) presented as fictional versions of real people, Ronnie Sandahl's film presents an intriguing journey into a big league football academy, which proves closer to strict boarding school than the glitzy lifestyle of the marquee stars.
Martin, played convincingly by wide-eyed, uptight Erik Enge, is thrown in with the largely Italian crew who’ve been there for years. They greet this stick-thin Scandinavian with braced teeth as if some 12-year-old virgin has appeared in their midst. They're all supposed to be a team, but everyone's auditioning to be kept on or sold off, and self-involved Martin, who barely speaks a word of Italian, soon realises that ace footballing skills alone may not equip him for this cut-throat environment.
It’s a vivid, chastening look inside the ruthless promised land that is top-level sport
Tigers, though, impresses more for this chillingly immersive milieu than it does for the increasingly stressed figure at the heart of it. You can understand why his team mates don't exactly fall for this humourless introvert, but less clear is why Martin, with a dysfunctional family background eating away at him, can't find a way to confront his mental health issues.
Certainly, it's tough to face your adolescent rite of passage (finding yourself, first love) in such a pressure-cooker context, but as Martin's escalating anxieties get visualised in terms of Lynchian unease, the audience is somewhat left on the outside, rather than living through it all with him. Still, Tigers is a vivid, chastening look inside the ruthless promised land that is top-level sport.
Out in UK cinemas Jul 1.