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Mario: Heartwarming soccer gay love story
August 20, 2018
Football is the hardest of nuts to crack in terms of accepting LGBTQ+ individuals, a threat to its hyper-heterosexual culture, the mere thought of accepting them will somehow taint its obstinate macho image. Stadiums are a common place for homophobic language, used to degrade opposing team, creating an environment where players are reluctant to come out and if they do its once they’ve retired and out of the sport all together. Precisely the subject matter Swiss indie Mario tackles, interpreting this state of affairs into a personal narrative: a blossoming gay love affair between two young premiere players Mario (Max Hubacher) and Leon (Aaron Altaras), taking place in an insensitive and stubbornly masculine backdrop which refuses to reform, where the stakes of revealing one’s homosexuality hinders all prospects of professional success.
Hubacher’s Mario is a crafter, working his way up to become the top scorer in a leading club’s under-21s team, whist harbouring same sex attraction. As he embarks on his soccer trails for premiership, he is made to co-habit with a fellow rising star, the incredibly attractive Leon. Leon stirs all sorts of emotions within Mario; their friendly repour develops into a mutual fondness and an inevitable advance instigated by Leon sees Mario’s suppressed desires buoy to the surface. As their intimate affair start to bloom soon enough it becomes marred by rife homophobic gossip amongst other team mates, provoking the club and Mario’s agent to take cautionary action. And of course, Mario is now having to choose between Leon or a football career, which he spent his whole life preparing for. Things take on the decline as Mario choses career, choses not to make a political statement and play it straight and one by one those closest to him, including Leon, slowly abandon him.
The film treads on familiar territory, whilst previous examples proved tricky; the comedic albeit cheesy Eleven Men Out or the crass, faux emotional body flashy The Pass from a few years back, Mario manages to successfully come out cliché free. Director Marcel Gisler has created a pleasant, assuming low-fi, focusing all the attention ton o the narrative and character development, treating us to authentic and sympathetic portrayals. Both Hubacher and Altaras give stellar performances, their on-screen chemistry is highly palatable, making for the handsomest of couples; Mario’s blue-eyed Arian blondeness juxtaposes Leon’s sultry latino-esque curly locks. Leon is seemingly more experienced compared to an inhibited Mario and thus as the pressure from the gossip piles up, we see them react in different ways and their love affair takes on a deleterious trajectory.
Mario had everything planned out for him, but once love and confusion ascend upon him, life became unclear. And when he chooses the unsavoury option, everything in his life, par football, starts to fall apart. Gisler then refuses to provide him with any relief ,as in the final scenes we see him reach out to Leon but to no avail. There is no sugar-coating here, life decisions are not easy, and any choice made comes at a personal cost. If Mario chose Leon perhaps his life would be tinged with resentment and regret, but then is a life in the closet any better?
Mario will available on DVD through Pecadillo Pictures on the 10th September 2018.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_
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