No sooner had the curtain fallen on the world première of Les Arbitres than the stars of the show were giving their unanimous approval to the UEFA-authorised film about referees at UEFA EURO 2008™.
Chorus of approval
The main characters of the 77-minute documentary attended the film's big-screen debut at the Locarno film festival on Monday – and later united in acclaiming director Yves Hinant's very human portrayal of the refereeing community. Swiss match official Massimo Busacca was the first of the featured referees to appear in the movie. He said it not only brought back the emotion of the tournament, but also served an important purpose in helping the public understand the difficulties facing football's men in the middle.
"It's a good movie because people can really understand what it is to take a decision in one second," Busacca told uefa.com. "And what it is like for the referee to take a decision, make a mistake and immediately have to forget it. It will help people understand what the referee's life is like. Sometimes it is not easy because you make a mistake and then you are alone. When I think in those terms, sometimes I am afraid. But it will be a good message and good publicity."
By showing the referees on and off the pitch – in situations ranging from the pressure cooker of a EURO finals match to the family home – director Hinant and producer Jean Libon have succeeded in presenting a broad vision of their subject. Spanish match official Manuel Mejuto González applauded their achievement. "It was a big surprise because the film shows the emotions, not only in specific moments in matches but the conversations in the matches, in the dressing room and with families," he said. "Everybody thinks that when the referee makes a decision, rightly or wrongly, he goes home and forgets about it. That's not true. Referees are like players – they think about what went on, they want to improve. It is good for everybody to see we are human, we are professional and we try our best."
Test of character
According to Roberto Rosetti, the Italian official who was appointed to take charge of the EURO final, the film will move audiences precisely because of its focus on a referee's fallibility. "It is a very interesting, very emotional film which shows the human part – the referee as a normal man. You see negative situations which are part of our career and which we have to live with. In my opinion it is important how the referee overcomes these situations. The human part of the referee is part of football. Refereeing mistakes are part of football. I have to prepare as well as possible, but beyond that I am a man and capable of correct decisions as well as mistakes."
Effect on family
For English official Howard Webb, the role of the secondary characters in Les Arbitres is also significant, as it underlines the effect a referee's actions can have on their family. "Overall it's a really positive representation of our lives. I am aware of the fact my family go through emotions – their big desire was for my games to be controversy-free – but they understand that's not always possible. I chose to become a referee and it's only with their support that I've been able to get to this position. I am always hopeful that anything that happens on the field doesn't have an impact on the family. But the film brings home how it does affect people back home. It gives an insight into a world people would never normally see."
The tension, the pressure, the relief. The gamut of emotions that the referees are seen to experience is fondly remembered by now-retired Swedish official Peter Fröjdfeldt. "It was a great time at the EURO and that is something I miss," he said. "We didn't know which way they would show us – positive or negative. But it was a great movie. The film shows we are not robots, and also that we want to do our best every time we go out there. It is like theatre out there – sometimes you laugh, sometimes you get angry – so you prepare for everything and expect the unexpected. You are an actor out on the pitch." And, in Locarno this week, on the silver screen too.
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