Dis-connection to a subculture or fanfare has rarely deterred films from resonating with the audience. The entire point is that if the passion for the cause is able to be translated on screen, you emerge with another perspective on it, even if not adopting it entirely. While we all personally may not be football fanatics, we are privy to the power of the sport. So Ultras gets straight to the point.
A man walks through a crowd to arrive at a wedding. Throughout this scene, everyone knows who he is. During the opening credits, we are given a montage of important moments from Italy’s great football legacy (including Diego Maradona’s stint) complete with rioting fans for the warring clubs of Napoli and Roma. This man is Sandro, a senior member of the ‘Apache’ (a group of ‘ultras’ or fanatic football fans who have historically displayed their fanfare in commercially outrageous ways and often even resorted to violence). The ultra culture is his entire life. Now as his time sets, he is seeking a genuine human connection and hoping to regain some normalcy into his life. Meanwhile, he is also a guardian to a teenager named Angelo who is just starting to understand his role of being an ultra. As the finals of the championship approach, the common love for football keeps them together but Sandro also looks out for Angelo with guidance and friendship.
I’m not too sure if it’s the best idea for Ultras to come out now in such unfortunate timing. The debut feature for filmmaker Francesco Lettieri roots itself into a subculture which is very Italian at heart. And at the moment, where the country it is set in faces complete lockdown due to a pandemic seems to be bad timing for anyone seeking a bit of compassion towards its people. In addition, the social existence of ‘ultra groups’ is extremely political by nature. Separating the theme from the politics that surrounds it does a disservice to the plot as everything that seems to happen, even certain big moments like the burning of Apache flags and why it would create some frenzy within the group, is superficial and shallow. Ultras may be based on a fictitious story but its setting is very real. From an alien viewpoint, the viewer doesn’t connect to the passion, the brotherhood, the dilemma at all. Instead, it just seems to be another form of gang-war with unnecessary angst and machismo. Even the character-driven story of Sandro falling in love with Terry, and feeling a paternal instinct for Angelo has no point overall if we cannot familiarise with the backdrop. It is fairly evident that in reality, the ultras are fiercely loyal to their love for football to the extent that not much else in their life is unrelated to that. What is it that drives Sandro to re-evaluate his life? What are the repercussions of such choices for both men? What is the effect on people who surround them? None of these questions are ever answered.
Ultras’ mildly redeeming factor is the ensemble cast carrying the film forward, who play their parts with a certain raw intensity and a lot of charm. Unfortunately, they are all underdeveloped, as are their storylines. Such a film has the opportunity to really explore what the choice of such a life can mean for an individual. It is also a very apparent masculine world, and in such a world, loyalty and brotherhood mean something, but we aren’t shown that. At the end of the day, the men's’ showcase of toxic masculinity is pointless because no historical context has been provided.
In a setting as extreme as the ultra culture, Ultras makes the rookie mistake of playing it safe and not taking a stance as to where it stands. Is the movie embracing that culture or is it serving as a warning for what aimless fanaticism can result to? Whatever be the case, it makes it difficult to care either way because I still don’t know what it is that keeps this group together, and love football. There are no scenes within a stadium setting making us experience the joy and exhilaration that a fan feels when they see their team compete. The final brawl takes place without a single football match being shown or attended. Are we to believe that the ultras are so consumed by violence by that time that they’ve stopped caring for the game? If that is so, why should we care for a bunch of men fighting around without a sense of purpose?
There’s not a lot to enjoy about Ultras other than the fact that it has good pacing. If nothing else, at least there’s no random distractions or lagging in the screenplay.
Music and Other Departments:
Smartly, the film also employs a lot of dance beats to aid the scenes that give it a bit of rhythm and flow. The production value is also high where the film looks dark and murky in the right places and captures the easy breeziness of Italy in equal measure.
Did I Enjoy It?
No. Some random scenes are engaging but the film is either too rooted in its culture, assuming the world would ‘get it,’ or too apathetic to it considering the legal consequences. Either way, the intent doesn’t quite come across.
Do I Recommend It?
No. A little Googling and I found many other highly-rated documentaries and fiction films about ultra groups specifically, not just football. This one doesn’t have anything to connect to.
Rating: 1.5 /5