It was a Lynn Lee and James Leong's documentary Homeless FC that first introduced the existence of the Homeless World Cup to me, and unlike that documentary which traces the backgrounds of a group of players who herald from Hong Kong, The Offsiders is a tale of fiction that deals with almost the same subject, following a group of Polish players en route to the biggest outing of their lives, the participation in the same tournament in Germany.
The film opens with the introduction of a youthful Jacek Mroz, a member of the Polish football team and one of its brightest prospects, only to be cut down by a career ending injury before even kicking a football in his first cap for the country. Such is the cruel fate that is dished to him, and the current Jacek (played by Marcin Dorocinski) is a broken man estranged from his wife, childhood sweetheart Ewa (Maria Seweryn) and daughter Aniela (Maria Lozinska). An unpopular teacher and a coach of integrity, he soon finds himself homeless at Warsaw's Central Station, before an idea sparked him off to recruit his fellow residents to form a team for the Homeless World Cup.
In some ways, this film resembles the typical zero to hero storyline, except for the hero bit because it omitted a large part of the narrative in its expected big bang section to establish just that. Instead, the focus is on the players themselves, and the story's pretty heavy on the drama as it explores each individual character in logically split chapters introduced by inter-titles, showing us just exactly how these characters get to be where they are, and in the process lifts them from being mere caricatures, and transforming them to people with whom we share an affinity for. Thanks to Przemyslaw Nowakowski's story, each of them have a very interesting back-story to relate, and being quite the rag tag team assembled given their diverse backgrounds.
For the football fan, you have to be contended with the very few minutes of football put on display. There's one in the middle of the film which is simply exhilarating to watch, and quite stylishly executed in an action-sequence sort of manner which I enjoyed following, though less polished with no special effects ala the definitive football film Goal!. Other very nifty moments include one singular sub plot which puts Jacek at loggerheads with a security detail at an invite-only event, and the closing credits (one which I hope was just something premature, really!) that had you pumped up with anticipation, only for director Kasia Adamik to pull the rug right under you.
Still The Offsiders remain an extremely engaging dramatic tale of the down and out given a new lease of life with a new found passion to focus their energies on, and in a way encourages us all to seek out that passion and to excel in it, never mind about the goal at the end, but it's always about the journey in which to gain experience and to have a little fun.
The Offsiders plays tomorrow at GV Vivocity's European Film Festival.