Freetime Machos Movie

Movie Review: Freetime Machos

In Invictus (2009), Clint Eastwood looked at two simultaneous phenomena – the release from prison and rise to power of Nelson Mandela, and the rallying of the South African public, or most of it, around a white rugby team as a new nation is born.

Invictus means undefeated, but a rugby movie that has been under the radar since premiering at the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA) in November is a tale of losers in Oulo, a provincial town in Finland. Freetime Machos by Mika Ronkainen is a delicately refined look at everyday life on and off the field, as men reveal themselves through group behavior.

Its Finnish, so the saga of the most northern and third-worst rugby team in the world wont fit the extreme screen stereotypes of frat-boy carousing on one end or sensitive wimp-dom on the other (or the Kaurismaki mold of homo finlandicus drinking himself into oblivion). Being Finnish (and a documentary) Freetime Machos will struggle to reach a wide audience. If director Mika Ronkainen came from a larger country with a language spoken by more than a few million, hed be much better known.

Freetime Machos

Freetime Machos

Within the story of a team thats desperately trying to reverse its losing streak, there are small stories built around men fighting the small battles that take up most of life.  Those arent necessarily won, either.

Mikko is a blond bearish chairman of the sports club (they dont come whiter than these guys), who has permanent grin on his face, which hides his anxiety about raising four children. Matti is younger, also blonde, with a serious girlfriend, but confused about whether or not he might be gay. A hunky bearded teammate, Tuomo, who is gay, adds to the confusion. Roger, the perpetually-chagrined English coach, finds further frustration when he learns that his job at the Finnish corporate giant Nokia is soon to be eliminated. Being English, he cant yell about anything. (Youll learn that Nokia isnt as loved as you might have imagined in Finland.) The one bright spot for the team is Ana, a motivated Spanish student, but rules disqualify her from playing. No good intention goes unpunished.

The Freetime Machos have fulltime fragility, and Ronkainens  film blends odd jock humor with tenderness and deadpan honesty to give these characters a rare complexity.  And theres an inflatable woman that the men blow up from time to time. Boys will be boys.

Freetime Machos

Freetime Machos

As I noted, if Mika Ronkainen were anything but Finnish, he would be anything but unknown. Freetime Machos  wont be at Sundance, sadly, but Ronkainens earlier film, Screaming Men, was at Sundance in 2003. Its a performance film about the Mieskuoro Huutajat (Mens Choir Shouters, conducted by intrepid Pietri Sirvio), who wear black suits and rubber neckties, and shout its repertory, mostly mocking official proclamations and anthems. The men tour Japan, Iceland (where “altering” the national anthem can get you two years in prison), and France with the unusual act. Between ensemble scenes of Finnish deadpan, Ronkainen gives us a remarkably cinematic evocations of the choir in the landscape. Imagine men single-file walking through the snow until they meet an icebreaker. Matthew Barney wishes he could create this kind of lyricism.

Men sign up for the choir in Screaming Men the way they might enlist for war, with applicants auditioning their screams for a committee and confessing to loneliness or aimlessness when they ask why they want to join. Again, its male vulnerability, but not the way that youve seen it before.

Freetime Machos is ready-made for a narrative feature remake. Why bother? Ronkainen has captured these characters in a way that fiction usually fails to do.  If Invictus is a rugby film thats really about politics, Freetime Machos is a rugby film that opens up the personal realm that was presumed to be locked away up there in the North.

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