Nicolas Wadimoff: Spartans

Marseille. The city of Zinedine Zidane. A multicultural melting pot with areas/quartiers, where violence is a daily menu with gangs operating, murders and huge social problems. If Zidane is an icon for football fans, Yvan Sorel is it for practioners of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts). He is the character of this impressive piece of observational documentary at its best – camera Joseph Areddy.

Yvan Sorel – whose face reminds me of Karim Benzema, full of aggression and vulnerable at the same time – has his ”Team Sorel”, where he and other fighters teach kids and teenagers the sport and how have to behave in the world. He is a father figure for them, being tough if they have not attended school or having lied or other matters that do not fit into good manners. Contrary to the teachers I had in school, Yvan Sorel does this by swearing the worst in the French vocabulary and/or promising them ”to beat the hell out of them”. In French!

The camera follows Sorel, when he is with his girl friend at home – she is a nurse and sees the damages of violence closely – or when he is with his family or friends smoking the shisha or at a tournament in Liverpool. Most of the film, however, circles around him at the training place interacting with his students. The camera has caught  extraordinary moments with kids – the boy on the photo with Sorel was given the homework to write down twenty words that communicate the positive sides of Life. He did so! And his mother was shocked with joy. ”I’ll call your mother”, is a phrase often used by Sorel, the fathers are not there, many are in prison, we were told by the director in the Q&A after the screening at the American Documentary Film Festival. Many scenes with the kids are beautiful like the one where he gives 1€ to each of his sister’s kids if they can answer what is 3+7, and what is biggest 200 or 300? They made it!

Another issue of the film is the constant struggle by Sorel and his team to get a gym where he can have his training. The mayor of the arrondissement in Marseille visits Sorel, says that she will do all she can but nothing happens but a medal being given to the fighter. He is quite frustrated by this.

Back to the camera work and the editing that a couple of times lifts the observations to pure poetry, where the fighters movements are being set in slow motion. Like a ballet.

The film was given the first Robert Drew Verité Award at the Mystery Screening of the closing ceremony monday night at the festival. 

Switzerland/France, 2014, 80 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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