LGBT football drama 'Mario' is now on the Into Film catalogue

10 Jan 2019 BY Michael Prescott in Film Features

6 mins

We're proud to present a very special addition to the Into Film Catalogue in LGBT football drama Mario, a Swiss production that tackles the under-explored topic of sexuality in football. In an Into Film first, we have negotiated an special 15 certificate rated version of the originally 18-rated film - a version that is exclusively available to Into Film Clubs.

We've been eagerly looking forward to sharing Mario with our film clubs since first viewing the film at BFI Flare, the UK's largest LGBTQ film festival, back in March 2018. However, upon its theatrical release in the summer of 2018, the film received an '18' certificate from the British Board of Film Classification (nominally for one brief shot of a pornographic magazine which constituted "strong sexual images" under their guidelines). Given that we felt the film would strongly resonate with younger teenage audiences, we were keen to work with both its UK distributor, Peccadillo Pictures, and the BBFC, to find a solution. 

As a result, by re-submitting the film with only a very minor change (the blurring of the offending image), we now have a 15 certificate version of Mario to share exclusively with our network of Into Film Clubs, and are delighted to recommend it as both suitable and highly engaging for 16-19 aged audiences. 

We'd like to extend our thanks to Peccadillo Pictures and the BBFC for helping facilitate this special 15-rated version of Mario.

The drama follows the titular character Mario Lüthi, an attacker for the U21 team of real-life Swiss club Young Boys. His fortunes change - for the better - when new arrival Leon Saldo, also a forward player, transfers to the club. Though initially worried about competition for places, a potential rivalry quickly becomes a mutually beneficial partnership. After the club strategically place the two in a flat together - hoping to develop their professional chemistry and aid their on-pitch performance - they get more than they bargained for, as Mario and Leon's sexual tension spills over. But with Mario more doubtful about whether he wants a romantic relationship, additional pressure is put on this young couple after they're caught sharing a kiss together in public. Whispers begin to circulate, and as their teammates tease and bully both players, the club does whatever it can to ensure that the rumour is suppressed. The two are left with a heartbreaking ultimatum; forced to choose between their career and their identity.

Mario is not the only film to tackle such topics in recent times. In December 2016, The Pass, starring Russell Tovey, was released in UK cinemas, telling the story of two professional footballers who share an intimate night together before reuniting many years later, after one of them has gone on to become a star. As with Mario, the players' fear of societal pressure is enough to prevent them from being their true selves, impacting negatively on their mental health and career aspirations. Next Goal Wins, a wonderful documentary from 2014, offers a more uplifting story, as it looks at the affirming power sport can have by charting the trials of American Samoa, the world's worst international football team, while also exploring gender identity, masculinity, grief, and much more beyond.

What Mario does particularly well is to present the oft-peddled idea that claims "one day the sport will be ready" - but if not now, then when? Individuals in the world of football, ranging from players' agents to club members, insist that they are not themselves homophobic, but rather it is the wider footballing culture that is simply not ready for an out gay player. Mario showcases a world in which individuals claim to be tolerant of LGBT people, but fear that wider society - especially those involved in football culture - would not be quite as forgiving. 

The film cleverly highlights that difficulties experienced by LGBT people aren't always explicit examples of homophobia, but can be more subtle, nuanced and sly. Some of the individuals involved may be genuinely well-meaning, but their actions infringe upon the rights and freedoms of the film's two protagonists, forcing them to choose between two fundamental rights in a way that would not be asked of heterosexuals.

Mario opens conversations around these ideas, and the inclusion of two real football teams within the narrative - Young Boys and German club St. Pauli - is a significant step towards the professional game embracing LGBT equality. There are many suggestions as to why there are currently no openly gay players in any of the world's major men's leagues, from negative fan reception to media intrusion, but things are finally beginning to slowly change for the better. 

Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign - in which players, officials and supporters are encouraged to wear multicoloured laces - highlights sexuality inequality in sport, and demonstrates solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who play and follow sport. And we have also seen footballers who either play in other leagues, have recently retired (such as former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger), or are participants in the women's game - including England captain Casey Stoney in 2014 - coming out in recent years.

Ultimately, what Mario reminds us of is this: if everyone is always waiting for someone else to make the first move, no progress will ever be made. This is one of the primary reasons why we believe centring our upcoming Spring Screenings around LGBT History Month is so vital for young people across the UK. As well as being available for Into Film Clubs to order from our catalogue, Mario is one of the titles we've programmed in our Spring Screenings season, and is set to play at the Savoy Cinema in Stockport on Monday 11 February.

Michael Prescott

Michael Prescott, Curation Coordinator

Michael has an MA in Film Studies with Screenwriting from Sheffield Hallam University. He has previously worked at the British Council and on the BFI Film Academy, and has volunteered at organisations including Sheffield Doc/Fest and Cinema for All.

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