A must for sporting fans the world over, this insightful documentary sympathetically examines the high pressure stakes involved in marshalling the beautiful game at the highest level. Set during the 2008 Euro Championship, film makers Yves Hinant, Eric Cardot and Lehericey Delphine are given unrestricted access into the inner sanctum of referees Roberto Rossetti, Howard Webb and Manuel Mejuto González together with their linesmen as they face the players, the media and the organisation whom they work for.
While the film itself does not operate with any discernible narrative it becomes apparent from the onset that a constant tension works its way through the piece. Being a fly-on-the-wall piece it doesn’t have the luxury of building any back story, rather it creatively employs devices; the editing and the sound design are first rate to provide the necessary hook, as it where, to keep the audience enthralled in what could have been a pretty dull work. Of utmost importance was putting into perspective the pressure, the concentration and even the fitness involved in adjudicating a match. To say that it achieved this is an understatement. In a series of quick snippets of the games we overhear the desperate communication between the referee and his linesmen, something almost akin to air force pilots in battle. It’s rapid, necessary and at times profane. The result for error is not exactly life threatening but something very close as English referee Howard Webb found out after a suspect decision against Poland. Luckily for the film makers too it gave them a genuine moment in unfolding tension.
Balancing these match tensions are captured candid conversations of the referees with their families and the organisations’ executives. Some real empathy is found in these moments, as the film constructs a picture of regular men just going about their business. We sit in with them at debriefings as casually as we do at family functions and post match workouts.. It’s a world away from the scorn usually hurled at them from the spectators.
Let us not forget that this role is extremely competitive in nature. Just like the football teams themselves competing in the tournament there is only one winning referee that can arbitrate the honour of the final match. However, in this case the decision is a lot less glamorous, conducted behind closed doors by a panel of tournament officials. Egos and controversies aside the film also offers some interesting philosophical musings from the top men in charge, cementing the notion even further that they are in difficult positions with absolutely no room for error. Contrast this with the mic’d interplay on field between the refs and the linesmen and this documentary goes along way in keeping our interest for 77 minutes.
The film makers took a real chance in the camera barely there approach, with no talking heads or plot to go by they ultimately succeeded in presenting a candid and revealing look into another side of football giving the much maligned profession some justice and celebration.
The Referees kicks off in cinemas 5th August 2011.
Directors: Yves Hinant, Eric Cardot, Lehericey Delphine
Stars: Howard Webb, Manuel Mejuto González, Roberto Rosetti
Runtime: 77 min