Review: The Squad
- CANNES 2020: Stéphanie Gillard shows the everyday life of high-level athletes, female soccer players looking for respect and flag-waving champions of a winning feminism
“Together, we will make a difference.” For several years, women’s soccer has gained visibility in the media, with TV audiences managing to convince TV channels to invest in important international events, and a few world-famous stars have emerged, such as the iconoclastic American Megan Rapinoe. And while these women are still very far from dealing with the astronomical sums of male soccer, their recognition as legitimate athletes is progressing at a rapid pace, with the movement naturally fitting into the larger revalorisation of the place of women in every sector of society. French filmmaker Stéphanie Gillard decided to examine this evolution up close in her documentary The Squad [+see also:
film profile] (subtitled #notheretodance), which had its premiere at the Marché du Film Online of the Cannes Film Festival. The film follows the everyday life of a women’s soccer team of a high level, that of the Olympique Lyonnais (one of the best teams in the world, present at the Champions League six times since 2011 and winner of the France Champion title 14 times in a row, including in 2019).
Written on the walls of the changing room are the words “Pleasure,” “Loyalty,” “Exigency,” “Solidarity,” and “Ambition.” The film starts in the final stretch of the 2018/2019 season and the OL Féminin is still in the running for the triple (France championship and cup, Champions League). Very close to the players thanks to her small camera (but always careful not to cross the line into over-familiarity), the director paints with small touches the portrait of competitors fierce even in their small games during training and throughout the eight games which set the tempo of the narration (against the PSG, in Grenoble, Fleury, Chelsea – both at home and in a return match –, Dijon, Lille and Budapest for the European final against Barcelona). Field, corridors, cantina, bus, hotel, massages, exercise, lessons for those passing their baccalaureate exam, photo shoots, workshops in schools, press conferences, post-game or backstage interviews: the film plunges into every little detail of a life made of passion, sacrifice, routine, dreams and constant reassessment. But it is most of all an endearing mirror to the winning state of mind of a group of international individuals (Norwegian Golden Ball winner Ada Hegerberg, experienced Welsh player Jessica Fishlock, Saki Kumagai from Japan, German player of Hungarian origins Dzsenifer Marozsan, French favourites Wendie Renard, Eugénie Le Sommer, Amandine Henry and Sarah Bouhaddi, rising stars Amel Majri, Griedge Mbock and Delphine Cascarino, and young players such as Selma Bacha).
A constellation nourished by communication (“I only hear my own thoughts and my teammates, not the crowd”) and intergenerational transmission which allows to take stock of the development of women’s soccer since the first professionals contracts in 2009 (“we were playing in front of 30 people,” the fact that young people’s models used to be Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry or Cristiano Ronaldo and are now female players) and to shine a light on a pioneering club (presided by Jean-Michel Aulas, more discreet in the film than usual).
But this ongoing soccer revolution is most of all that of flag-waving feminists whose goal is to “put women in a better position.” “The road is still long”, says one of the champions, “in a country where the place of women is a little difficult,” but “we have to be seen because we cannot be heard.” A message and a faith in the (victorious) future which The Squad #notheretodance captures perfectly.
(Translated from French)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.