'Mario is very much a hot ticket for BFI Flare' programmer Brian Robinson says with a smile to a packed screening in at the LGBTQ+ film festival. And he's right, the screening is packed to rafters... the fact that it's a love story about gay footballers might possibly have something to do with it. But Mario's real talents lie not in the spectacle of young attractive men running around in tiny shorts, or indeed the exploration of being gay in football - its focus is much deeper than that.
The set up to the story is fairly straightforward; Mario (Max Hubacher) is the star player and captain of a young football team in Switzerland. All the players are vying for the chance to be promoted to the main squad, so tensions are already running high. Then, when new striker Leon (Aaron Altaras) shows up to join the squad things get even more complicated. The pair is swiftly made inseparable thanks to their chemistry on the pitch and the fact they're sharing a tiny apartment in between extensive practice sessions.
What follows is all too familiar in movies and real life - secretive glances, and the inevitable clumsy hookup and professed feelings of lust and love. It’s after we get all this out of the way, however, that the story really hits its stride. Claustrophobic panic and anxiety seeps into both men’s lives as they attempt to hide their sexuality and relationship from the world. They're hiding not just because of a sense of shame, but also because of professional obligation. Their careers, which are only just beginning to blossom, could be catastrophically dismantled if rumour spread that either one was gay. It’s a fraught theme throughout the movie that fills each scene with suspense and unease. What began as a cute love story morphs into this intriguing tale of star-crossed lovers.
The film isn't perfect - some of the more emotional points, which certainly won’t be spoilt here, fall a tiny bit flat. The heart is certainly there with both actors but there are unfortunately one or two moments that take you out of the flow of the film. Generally, however, the tone is spot on - every gay man will instantly connect with either Mario or Leon and their relatable worries of life and love.
Another fantastic aspect of this film are the supporting characters - Mario’s mother and best friend particularly are the most clued up and pleasingly written characters of the entire story. Although they eventually help facilitate and contribute to the fiasco of sham living situations and putting football first, they clearly have Mario’s best interests at heart. There are not one but two coming out scenes which hit all the rights notes and even triggered spontaneous applause.
Mario is classic Flare fare; on the very surface it appears to be a film designed to entice gay and bisexual men with the promise of young attractive footballer eye candy, but when you drill down below that veneer you experience the real pain and consequence of the real world. The constant fear that you'll be exposed for being something not accepted in a setting that you love so much.
Mario’s mother says it best; “most people go their whole lives doing something they’re only second best at,” and that’s something anyone can relate to. LGBTQ+ or straight, everyone has had moments of regret or worry - is the career you chose the one for you? Is the person sleeping next to you ‘the one’? And do you have the courage to change it? Mario touches on these fears perfectly, not just for the main characters, but the entire ensemble. Uncertainness is universal, along with the pursuit of happiness.
BFI Flare runs from March 19 to April 1 and there are still tickets available for loads of amazing screenings - find out more information and book tickets here.
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