Most of us know the story: Thierry Henry slaps the ball down with his left forearm, crosses for William Gallas to head home, and Ireland is eventually left fuming and out of the 2010 World Cup. There are calls for the summary execution of a whole host of people, from Sepp Blatter all the way down to the grounds crew. The most vitriol is, of course, reserved for the referee, a Swede named Martin Hansson.

Rättskiparen, directed by Mattias Löw, documents the year leading up to Hansson’s great mistake. It follows him in all of his endeavors on the field and is granted access to him in his home and behind-the-scenes at the stadium. For those interested in the world of high-level referees, there are scenes where he jokes with stadium guards, tours the field before kickoff, and has a post-match hug with his colleagues after a good match, but the meat of the film is him as a private citizen.

In a world where it seems fairly acceptable to demonize referees—Tom Ovrebo, Wolfgang Stark, and now Hansson—The Refereemakes a strong case for the humanity behind the stern face of on-the-field authority. Hansson is a divorced father with split custody of 2 boys and lives in the woods of Sweden. He works as a part time firefighter (never onscreen) and full time referee, he trains, coaches a local team of youngsters, and he goes fishing. His neighbors refuse to talk to reporters about him, reject money to take video of his house, and warn Martin when there are journalists around looking for a scoop. His life is hardly the stuff of Hollywood legend.
FIFA still selects Martin for the World Cup despite an earlier prognostication that any mistake will mean the end of his chances to be in South Africa and half of the drama of the film is lost in the feeling that “oh, well, okay.” The central problem of the film is that there is no enemy. You’re instantly sympathetic towards Martin, who, in the clear light of day, is just a referee doing his job, but then the rest of the film seems to merely repeat that message.

Make no mistake, it is an enjoyable film and an intimate look at something few of us know about, but it is perhaps of more interested for soccer fans than film fans. The pace is slow despite its length (just 28 minutes) and there are moments of gratuitous, if beautiful, shots of trains. It is well made, but simply isn’t long enough to really discuss how horrible it is that the family has had to go into hiding after controversial decisions. It is commendable that this version of The Referee follows the life outside the field rather than focusing on the field of play itself, like the other The Refree (El Arbitro) that played at Kicking and Screening last year.

This post is written by friend of the site Isaiah Cambron. You can find more of his writing at barcelonafootballblog.com


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