- Virginie Verrier delivers a well-executed biopic and a multifaceted portrait of the pioneering star of women’s football Marinette Pichon, perfectly played by Garance Marillier
"Do you like kicking the ball? Do you want to play? – I can’t – Why not? – Because I’m a girl – That’s no excuse." At the end of a career which took her from a small town in the French department of Aube all the way to Philadelphia, Marinette Pichon had played for France 112 times and scored 81 goals between 1994 and 2007, at a time when women’s football enjoyed significantly less media coverage than it does today. But Pichon wasn’t just an incredibly talented, high-level sportswoman, she was also a young woman who was fighting to free herself from her violent, wife-beating father and to enjoy a fulfilling homosexual love life. This complex character who overcame countless obstacles in order to realise her dream is the inspiration behind director Virginie Verrier’s fascinating biopic, Marinette [+see also:
interview: Virginie Verrier
film profile], which is released in French cinemas tomorrow by The Jokers ahead of its international premiere in competition next weekend at Tribeca.
"I’m going to be a professional footballer – And I’ll be the Queen of England". It’s 1991, Marinette (the brilliant and totally credible Garance Marillier) is 16 years old, and her dreams don’t seem to chime with the teachers at her school. Having played football with boys for 11 years, scoring goal after goal and bringing armfuls of trophies home to the aggressive indifference of her alcoholic and violent father ("why would I care? Get out!") and her unfailingly supportive mother (Émilie Dequenne), she’s now at a crossroads: the time for mixed teams and exceptions is over. "What will I do now?". Pichon finds herself litter picking as a council refuse collector and getting bogged down in a "seedy" relationship with a boy from the local area. But a gap in the clouds appears and the future opens up to her when she’s taken on by the second division club Saint-Memmie (coached by Sylvie Testud).
It marks the beginning of Marinette’s stratospheric ascent, joining the French national team two years later (in exchange for a 210-francs allowance, accommodation in one of the Clairefontaine outbuildings – the castle is reserved for the men’s team only – and the outright hostility of a handful of veterans), taking part in the European championship in 2001 and being transferred to Philadelphia in the USA where the Women’s United Soccer Association is thriving and where "women are in the spotlight". It’s a trajectory resulting in a shedload of goals and individual trophies, but also a metamorphosis on a personal level thanks to the resolution of the father-issue (he’s sentenced to ten years in prison) and the discovery of love with a woman. Things won’t ever be easy for Marinette ("you’re worth nothing here, you’re not good enough", "I’d give up on football if I were you, dyke"), but it’s the mental fortitude of this champion, and her determination to achieve emancipation on all fronts, which makes of her the emblematic figure she is today in a sport where female players still don’t enjoy the professional status they deserve (despite the record TV audiences drawn by the French women’s team).
Adapting Pichon’s autobiography Ne jamais rien lâcher, Virginie Verrier has opted for fast-paced narration whilst achieving a perfect balance between exploring the character’s private life and her sports career. The director also delivers eminently credible football sequences (which is no easy thing on paper), keeping the camera glued on her protagonist who’s brilliantly played by Garance Marillier (revealed via Julia Ducournau’s Raw [+see also:
interview: Julia Ducournau
film profile]). It all makes for a fascinating film, paying fully deserved tribute to an exceptional woman and a pioneer in many respects.
(Translated from French)
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