A Bizarre World Cup Movie Is Streaming For Free
The disastrous FIFA-funded film United Passions is streaming for free on Tubi.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup is currently being held in Qatar, where 32 football (as the sport is known everywhere outside of the United States) teams from various nations are competing for the most sought-after trophy in the sport. However, the event is undeniably marred by protests over various human rights issues in Qatar and accusations of corruption within FIFA, the most widely accepted governing body in football. Of course, accusations of FIFA corruption are nothing new, which it attempted to combat by bankrolling the bizarre film United Passions, which starred Tim Roth and Sam Neill, and is currently streaming for free (with ads) on Tubi.
United Passions is nothing less than a biopic film dedicated not to a person, but to an international organization: Fédération Internationale de Football Association or FIFA. The film (directed by French filmmaker Frédéric Auburtin, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jean-Paul Delfino) was released in 2014 at the Cannes Film Festival and was clearly intended to be an Oscar-baiting prestige film that fictionalized the founding of FIFA as a pure-minded act of sportsmanship by hard-working men being scoffed at by top-hatted elites.
The film begins in 1905, where a group of heavily mustached, Dick Dastardly-like British aristocrats dismisses Robert Guérin’s (Serge Hazanavicius) attempt to recruit them for a global football organizing body, which United Passions frames as significant as the founding of the United Nations. In time, FIFA comes to be overseen by Jules Rimet (the acclaimed and controversial actor Gérard Depardieu), who establishes the first World Cup; the film depicts Depardieu as conspiring to fix the Cup for Uruguay in a kind of sports realpolitik, the only real hint in the film that FIFA would ever do anything unsavory.
Bizarrely, United Passions almost never shows any actual football being played, at least on the professional level. There are periodic cuts to groups of carefully diverse children playing a pick-up game through the film, but very few actual World Cup moments. It also never pauses for any meaningful input or perspective from the players themselves, which means the heroes of the film are essentially businessmen trying to keep a sports organization on track. As John Oliver quipped at the time: “Who makes a sports film where the heroes are the executives?” It seems that FIFA does.
Soon enough, FIFA is under the leadership of the Brazilian businessman João Havelange (Sam Neill, flattening his New Zealand accent into something unrecognizable), who essentially appoints Sepp Blatter (Tim Roth) as his successor. In the film, Blatter is depicted as an unflinching advocate for FIFA, thoroughly against any form of bribery and intimidating corrupt officials through both his knowledge of their illegal acts and sheer moral integrity.
In reality, Sepp Blatter was suspended from the leadership of FIFA the year after United Passions was released, in a wide-ranging scandal that involved bribery and money laundering indictments from the United States government and investigations by the Swiss government. He is currently barred from participation in FIFA activities until 2027. Tim Roth has said that he has never seen the movie in which he acted and did it to basically get out of a financial emergency, which is pretty telling.
United Passions was disastrously received by critics and currently holds a mind-boggling 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Its opening weekend grossed $918 in the entire United States, one of the worst showings for a film release ever.
United Passions was almost entirely bankrolled by FIFA itself and while Frédéric Auburtin claimed that he wanted the movie to at least in part act as a kind of expose of the organization in the style of Michael Moore, the film was generally considered to be a failed attempt at propaganda with maybe the worst possible timing. Now, it remains just a strange historical oddity and an act of nearly unmatched cinematic hubris.