Pitchfest is a four-day soccer festival showcasing film, music, and art that celebrates the beautiful game.
Movies about soccer usually focus on the positive aspects of the sport and its ability to unite and excite people all over the world. The Two Escobars (2010), which was screened at Cinéma du Parc for Pitchfest, explores the darker side of the soccer world, and how it can sometimes be as destructive as it is uniting.
Directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist documented the golden era of Colombian soccer, which was not unrelated to the corruption and violence that plagued the country during the 1990s. They used found footage, first-hand interviews with former players and members of both Escobar families, and radio stories from that time to illuminate the relation between the two main players in this story. The two Escobars – that is, Pablo the drug lord and Andrés the soccer star – were not related by blood but by profession, since Pablo’s empire provided heavy financial support to the national team.
With Pablo’s money (and threats against opposing teams), the national team were living their glory days with Andrés and his teammates becoming national heroes. At that point, the drug money that was pushing the team to such great heights was not openly talked about. As one of the players says in an interview, everyone was just grateful for the soccer.
The film does well in portraying the ambiguity during that time, since the lines between the different forms of power in the country were very much blurred. The relationship between the two Escobars is also ambiguous, since they had very different morals, but the admiration they received by some was very similar. Both were charitably inclined, though perhaps for different reasons, but the differences they made for poorer people caused them both to be venerated by the lower class.
When Pablo was killed by a group called PEPE, he took with him his orderly system of control over all criminality and the country descended into violent chaos. The conflict preoccupies the team and once the players begin to receive death threats, their performance goes downhill fast. Finally, a culminating moment of tragedy: Andrés scores an own-goal during the 1994 World Cup and is then assassinated by a member of PEPE. Even soccer couldn’t escape the violence, as one player observes.
While the filmmakers present a well-rounded exploration of Pablo’s motivations and virtues as well as his crimes, Andrés is immortalized as simply a humble and honest person through interviews with his sister, girlfriend, and teammates. Even though the two Escobars had very different moral compasses, though, their fate was the same in the end.
The film ends with the harsh reality that since drug money stopped supporting soccer in the country, its national team has only just started enjoying the same success once again. There’s that ambiguity again – with the drug money came conflict and corruption in Colombia, but it also gave the country a soccer team to worship and better soccer for everyone. This documentary makes you wonder who the bad guys actually were.
Pitchfest continues through Sunday, May 24 with more screenings at Cinéma du Parc.