A feature film about soccer dreams weighs the pros and cons of pursuing ambitions abroad or acceptance of life on the isolated islands of Cape Verde.
Fintar O Destino has the distinction of being the Library of African Cinema's first sports film - but a sports film with a decidedly African twist. It is the story, familiar from countless Hollywood movies and therefore easily accessible to American audiences, of an over the hill sports hero who holds onto his past so strongly he destroys his present. Think of Marlon Brando's famous lament from On the Waterfront, "I could've been a contender." At the same time, this film explores a much more general tension, personal and political, between remaining true to one's dreams or making the best of the limited opportunities around us. In Fintar o Destino this dilemma is posed in terms of an entire nation: whether Cape Verdeans should accept life on these isolated islands or should pursue their often unrealistic ambitions overseas. Indeed, this is a conflict faced by more and more people in the poorer countries of an increasingly mobile world.
In Fintar O Destino character and fate are geographic, bound up with the unique history of the Cape Verde Islands. These ten volcanic islands located three hundred miles off the most westerly point of Africa were uninhabited until the Portuguese discovered them in 1462. They soon grew into a bustling port of call between Africa, Europe and the Americas developing a highly Creolized mulatto population. Since the islands have never been economically self-sufficient, emigration has been a central fact of Cape Verdeans' lives; islanders have established communities around the Atlantic, the largest one in southern New England. Cape Verdeans, most notably Amilcar Cabral, played a leading role in the liberation of their islands and Guinea-Bissau from Portuguese rule in 1973, as dramatized in another new lusophone release, Mortu Nega. But independence could not overcome financial dependency: today a majority of islanders live abroad and remittances from the West play a major role in the fragile economy. In the film, an old schoolteacher observes that "on an island men fear staying more than leaving." Perhaps this is the "dribbling fate" of the title, the islanders' sense of just passing time, waiting for the big chance to move.
For many young men, the most exciting, if not realistic route off the island is to become a sports star, the illusory promise followed by so many inner city youth in this country, poignantly depicted in Hoop Dreams. The film's opening shot symbolizes this as we see a boy hoeing the island's arid volcanic soil only to realize he is actually marking out a soccer field. For the older men who have not found a way off the island, the only remaining escape is to live vicariously through the fortunes of their favorite team ignoring the mundane life all around them. The central character of the film, Mane, owns an unprofitable "sports bar" in Mindelo on the island of Sao Vicente, whose denizens are overgrown adolescents seemingly with little to do but root for Benfica, a major Portuguese team. Mane actually turned down an invitation to try out for Benfica in 1959 in order to marry a local girl; as a result his whole life has been consumed by regret, sinking into alcoholism, improvidence and an unhappy marriage. His situation finds an echo in the younger generation with Kalu, a talented teenager Mane is coaching who must decide whether to continue his rigorous training, emigrate to America or pursue a beautiful island ingenue.
Mane develops an obsession that the only way Benfica can win the national championships is if he is present in the stadium in Lisbon. He steals money which his wife has painstakingly been saving, abandons her at home and flies to Portugal where he inevitably learns the lesson that it is always dangerous to test one's dreams against reality. In Portugal, he looks up an old friend, Americo, who accepted an invitation to play for Benfica and who has become something of a legend in Mindelo. Mane finds him a broken man living in a shack by the Tagus who pitifully asks him for change. In Lisbon, Mane stays with his upwardly mobile son, Alberto and his Portuguese wife. Alberto confesses he has always resented his father for neglecting his wife and children in favor of his soccer fanaticism. When Mane tries to compensate by attending his grandson's birthday party, he misses the big game; Benfica wins anyhow.
Mane returns to Mindelo penniless and chastened. But, unlike an American film, Fintar O Destino is not so simplistic or moralistic as to suggest that Mane will be converted from a dreamer to a man of practicality. Life is obviously a tension between these extremes and any world needs both. Mane apologizes for his neglect of his family but not for his life-long romance with football and he continues to encourage Kalu to pursue the dream of becoming a soccer player. In the final scene, Mane mounts a bicycle which his friends have ridiculed because it can only pedal around the island but never get off it. He answers them with what could be his credo: "you can go anywhere you like with your imagination." Our last image of Mane is of him bicycling down a long pier heedless of Kalu's warning that there is no way off, waving to us joyfully, following his dreams quixotically towards that sea from which no one returns.
"Through a seemingly modest story of a soccer player's unfulfilled dreams, the film asks what lies in the future for the youth of Cape Verde, while exploring the challenges of (post)colonialism and globalization not just for Cape Verde or Lusophone Africa, but for the continent as a whole." - Fernando Arenas, University of Minnesota "An involving, often moving study of a man brought face to face with the emptiness of his lifelong obsession marked by a simple humanity and generosity that's ever rarer in modern cinema." - Variety "Elegiac, thoughtful, played at a resolutely gentle pace and awash with understated feeling, this touching tale hits its emotional target with precision." - The Scotsman
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