The Referees

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The Referees
The refs and their assistants are the least loved arbiters of the beautiful game of football. This presumptuous, mildly diverting and intentionally myopic profile of the men in black – here filmed officiating at Euro 2008 in Switzerland and Austria – did its festival round in 2009 under the more provocative title ‘Kill the Referee!’.

This was a reference to bald-headed Brit ref Howard Webb (pictured), who received death threats following his decision to allow a clearly offside goal to Austria in their game against Poland at that championship. The filmmakers probably thought this a lucky break and as a consequence, Webb (a bluff, relatively boring one-time Yorkshire police sergeant, later ref of the recent World Cup final) and his histrionically proud family feature quite prominently here – a risky move which, arguably, unbalances an already obfuscatory enterprise.

The film shows little artistic pretension – it’s no ‘Zidane’– but the directors’ strategy of eschewing commentary or voiceover, focusing solely during the games on the match officials’ movements and expletive-filled microphone communications, and not identifying directly any team, player or coach does produce some delightful, unintentional and trivialising effects.

Even for footy fans, the film’s a game of guesswork. Is that Massimo Busacca exclaiming ‘We are not gods!’? That’s Ballack there punching the opposition: is that the Germany v Spain game? For mere film fans, it’s a complete, if minor, mystery. ‘Why does he insist on that bull face?’ says Roberto Rosetti’s wife at home in Italy watching her husband officiating at the Greece-Russia match. You won’t find any answers here – but the questions are fun.

By: Wally Hammond

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Cast and crew

Director: Yves Hinant, Eric Cardot, Lehericey Delphine