out of Five
Running time: 81
Impressively directed documentary that takes an intriguing look at a little-seen aspect of football, both behind the scenes and on the pitch.
What's it all about?
Co-directed by Yves Hinant, Eric Cardot and Delphine Lehericey, The Referees is a fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows various football referees (including Britain's Howard Webb, Italy's Roberto Rosetti, Switzerland's Massimo Busacca, Sweden's Peter Frojdfeldt and Spain's Manuel Mejuto Gonzales) and their assistant teams during the UEFA 2008 championship. Using special microphones, the film follows the referees as they talk to each other on the pitch during the games and then shows us both the locker room meetings (before and after the games) and the post-match briefings as well as the reactions of friends and family back home as they watch each game.
In addition, the film also explores the fall-out from a controversial decision by Webb in a game between Poland and Austria that lead to Webb receiving death threats from Polish fans (the film's working title was Kill the Referee). There's also a competition element, as each referee team waits to decide who will be chosen to referee the closing games of the championship and who will be sent home early.
The project was originated by head of the UEFA refereeing committee Yvan Cornu (who receives a “from an idea by” credit), so it's not surprising that the filmmakers were granted such extraordinary access. The result is a frequently fascinating look at an often overlooked aspect of football, while the remarkable on-pitch microphone set-up allows for an intriguing glimpse at what each match is like for the referees themselves.
The filmmakers eschew the usual combination of interviews and voiceover narration in favour of just spending time with the referees themselves, each of whom emerges as an extremely strong, effortlessly charismatic character (also, they either deliberately chose the five best looking referees in the game or referees in general are a weirdly handsome bunch). There's also a loose structure involving the friends and the families of the referees as they follow the different games and it's interesting to see them watching and commentating on the refereeing as much as on the game itself (Webb's father's obvious pride is extremely touching).
The Referees is an engaging and frequently fascinating documentary that should appeal to both football fans and non-fans alike. Highly recommended.
The Referees (15)