Sunday, 26 November 2006

Balls (2004)


If you're one of those Brits who think that Germans have no sense of humour, then think again because if Balls is anything to go by, they know how to provide plenty of laughs.

Balls tells the story of a struggling football team whose goal-keeper Ecki suffers a double humiliation on the final match of the season - a cheating opponent gets a penalty that loses Ecki's team a much sought-after trophy, and his homophobic fellow players discover he's gay. The two incidents happening so close together are the excuse the team need to get rid of him, and his parents, particularly his football-mad father, add to the poor lad's misery by appearing distraught.

After a disagreement with his father Ecki moves out of his parents home and, with nowhere else to stay, asks his sister to put him up for a few nights. In a foolish argument he tells his old team that he will beat the team that defeated them with an 'all gay' football team, and having made a statement Ecki is not the sort of guy to give up. Naive and innocent, he and his sister proceed to hunt bars, restaurants and clubs for possible players and end up forming a team that features every gay stereotype imaginable - from the camp, swishing Spanish fast food worker who carries a picture of David Beckham in his pocket, through to a menage-a-trois of Hells' Angels-like leather-clad S&M queens, to the abusive, repressed 'straight' gay basher still hiding in the closet. In the process Ecki accidentally finds himself a boyfriend (the guy his sister has been chasing at work) and just to add to the confusion Ecki's sister finds herself a new admirer who pretends he's gay just so he can attend the football team practices and see more of her.

Despite the gay slant, the film is politically incorrect, and confident enough to send up stereotypes - gay and straight. The scenes where Ecki and his sister naively enter a gay S&M dungeon to try and recruit possible players alone are worth the price of admission, but there are plenty of laughs spread throughout the entire 100 minutes running time. It's not all laughs of course, and there's a touching side story about one of the player's attempts to get access to, and respect from his son following a bitter separation from the boy's mother.

What makes the film so enjoyable is not just the range of characters, and the determination not to preach or take itself too seriously, but the way it's all so good-hearted. There's none of the mean humour of the likes of Borat here and you get the feeling that the writers/director really liked all their characters, no matter how ridiculous they are. Nor does the film take the easy route of regurgitating gay propaganda either. Some of the best scenes feature a character who insists on visiting the baker's shop which Ecki's parents run, pretending he's gone in to buy something, only to deliver the most offensive, unfunny and politically incorrect anti-gay joke he can think of, laughing his head off at his wit each time. In weaker hands the figure would have become a hate-figure, but here you find yourself laughing at the character (even WITH him sometimes at the po-faced reactions he gets) and when he gets his inevitable come-uppance it's done in a light-hearted way. The message of 'Can't we all just get along?' may be simplistic, but it's nicely done and one doesn't feel one's being hit over the head with a shovel to get 'the message' across. It's all rather far-fetched and silly in places, a real 'fairy tale' if you will, but it's done with such a good heart it's hard to resist its charms.

Balls screencap

As is seemingly the norm with any foreign-language titles the extra's are sparse to say the least. A single Behind the Scenes featurette is all you get here, and it's a curious affair, starting off with a sort of 5 minute musical montage before suddenly switching into a real 'behind the scenes' featurette, albeit one that's primarily unedited footage. It's interesting enough, but a director's commentary would have been nice.

Balls won't be to everyone's taste - it features blokes snogging for goodness' sake! But if you're open minded enough to cope with that you'll find plenty of laughs in this warm-hearted, if rather ridiculous, 'feel good' story. Recommended!

Balls screencap

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