Freetime Machos (2010) dir. Mika Ronkainen
By Alan Bacchus
A hapless Finnish Rugby team, affectionately known as "the northern most Rugby team in the world," provides the background and entry point for this very pleasing cinematic take on the fragility of the male ego.
Every domesticated man loses a bit of his mojo when he gets married, finds a girlfriend, has kids or "settles down" in whatever shape or form. For the machos in this film, rugby becomes a way of reclaiming one's machismo in a sport where aggression, strength, stamina and guile are essential skills.
Director Mika Ronkainen presents us with an underachieving, ragtag bunch of wannabes who never seem to succeed, charting their season of failure on the pitch. Off the field, we get to know these guys on the road and in the Finnish sauna as they revert to various forms of base male behaviour and sex talk. Amongst his Bad News Bears are Matti and Mikko, one married, one not, and both quietly jealous of what the other doesn't have. Mikko, the married one, mentors Matti on relationships, and all lessons of life and sex, of which Matti is sadly deficient ― a Dumb and Dumber dynamic with some palpable homoerotic tension, which Ronkainen exploits admirably as deadpan humour.
The British coach, Roger, attracts the most compassion. Despite the Sisyphean task of winning ballgames, his professionalism and determination are inspiring. The back-story of his employment with Nokia, which brought him from the UK to Finland, and now, with organizational cutbacks, threatens his employment, emphasizes with poignancy the overarching theme of the loss of manhood.
And so, like great sports films, Freetime Machos is not about rugby, but the need to reclaim one's confidence and respectability in the face of emasculation, which these men find themselves facing every day.
"Freetime Machos" is playing this week at Toronto's Hot Docs Festival