Finnish Rugby Documentary, Freetime Machos, Debuts at 2010 Tribeca
by Chris Wood
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Freetime Machos is an 86 minute documentary directed by Mika Ronkainen (Before the Flood: The Last Couple in Vuotos, 2000) about the Oulu rugby team, the most northern and third lousiest rugby team in the world, and its season-long quest to win enough games to remain in the first division. Ronkainen admits that, “playing rugby close to the Arctic Circle is not really what masses do,” which likely explains why Oulu teammates and best friends Matti (22) and Mikko (29) have little success getting passers-by interested in joining the team at the beginning of the film.
The only one who expresses interest is 23 year-old Ana from Spain. She turns out to be one of the best players, but to the dismay of Roger (48), the team’s British coach who works for Nokia, Ana is forbidden by the rules to play in the matches. Roger’s 17 year job with Nokia is under threat, which teammate Jarmo (42) can relate to as he quit working for Nokia to write a book about his bad experiences while working for the company.
And this tends to be the underlying theme for most of the players on the Oulu rugby team – most are at a crossroads or faced with a life altering situation within their personal lives that reaches a pinnacle during the course of the rugby season. For example, Matti’s girlfriend is leaving for the summer and he is looking forward to a drunken rugby summer with Mikko, but Mikko’s wife has just become pregnant for the fifth time and has started working in shifts, which leaves less free time for Mikko as the family only has one car. Mikko is also not able to practice and participate with the team, which makes Matti feel abandoned.
Ronkainen succeeds at allowing the camera to follow the team on and off the field and does not shy away from the awkward topics that take place on the team bus or during the sauna after the match. For example, throughout the film Matti makes a number of homosexual jokes not realizing that one of his teammates, Tuomo (23), who rings birds as a hobby and does not like the blow-up sex doll team mascot, is gay. Another example is the somewhat pathetic coaching job Roger does. Granted, he does not have maximum talent, but he tends to express himself in a passive-aggressive manner, talking under his breathing and noticably holding himself and his anger back on the sidelines. That being said, he does not speak fluent Finnish, which may well have been an issue with properly instructing the team.
What is genuine about the film is the need that all of the teammates have for the team. Its purpose tends to be an escape from what is happening in their day-to-day lives to behave like masculine men (hence the name “Freetime Machos”). Ronkainen explains a new Finnish term, “aijyys,” is defined as “being a true man, a tough guy, but half jokingly, with self-irony.” So it is a sort of tongue-in-cheek term.
It would have been nice to see Roger and the rest of the team make more of a protest regarding Ana and her inability to play in actual matches. From the scenes shown of her playing, she displayed excellent speed and skill that proves she could play with the men (just this reviewer’s opinion, though). Perhaps Ronkainen can further explore that angle for a sequel, though Ana did have to leave in the middle of the season to return home.
But that is another reason the film succeeds – as a viewer, one will want to continue to follow the lives of these rugby players. In a bit of a bizarre way, it may remind a viewer of the early days of baseball or football in America where the players were not paid well (or possibly paid at all) and had to work regular jobs to support their families. The sport was something done because of the love or passion for it. To quote Ray Liotta’s Shoeless Joe Jackson in the 1989 film, Field of Dreams, “Shoot, I’d play for nothing.” And that is likely the case for the fellows on the Oulu rugby team, nonetheless, they still play to the extent their lives allow. The film is in the World Documentary Competition at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival (TFF).
Chris Wood Writer
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