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Women with balls scores big time onscreen

A scene from Mujeres con pelotas, by Ginger Gentile and Gabriel Balanovsky.
By Pablo Suarez
New documentary delves into the regrettably ignored world of female soccer

Everyone knows soccer is the Argentine sport by definition, despite the fact that polo really is the national sport. But when you think of soccer, you think of men, don’t you? However, something not many people know is that Argentine women’s soccer is actually on the rise, even if it doesn’t have the development and support men’s soccer has. For instance, there’s no professional league. But there are fervent amateur players who take it very seriously, to the point of defying a chauvinistic society that often places women in more traditional, household-related roles.

Argentine documentary Mujeres con pelotas (Goals for Girls: A Story of Women With Balls), directed by Ginger Gentile and Gabriel Balanovsky, focuses on a group of girls from the Villa 31 — a popular slum located right next to one of the city’s most affluent areas in Retiro — that strives hard, time and again, to make their own team and satisfy their need to play soccer, just like men do on a regular basis.

Yet in the case of women, the road is covered in obstacles left and right: the boys won’t let them use the field they claim it’s theirs, their families oppose their playing because they consider soccer is a men’s sport, they are called tomboys and so they are discriminated against, they have no resources to meet the most basic expenses — and so forth. However, despite the many hardships, the girls from Villa 31 will struggle until the very end to fulfill a much-cherished dream: to take part in the Homeless World Cup in Brazil.

The filmmakers intertwine many diverse testimonies from players, coaches, next of kin and friends, and this way a precise, multifaceted panorama of the universe of women’s soccer is drawn. Interviewees talk candidly and share their enthusiasm — or their rejection — and firmly defend their points of view. Nobody here stays in a middle ground. It seems you either strongly embrace or totally despise the idea of women playing soccer, which makes the film all the more attractive. Plus the amount of information and background exposed is also of much help to understand the many sides of the affair. After watching Mujeres con pelotas, which in Spanish translates literally as “women with balls,” you’ll realize that women do certainly have the balls to struggle for something that rightfully belongs to them.

As a downside, and in tune with many recent local documentaries, Mujeres con pelotas renders a panorama, but doesn’t probe deep into any particular story. Not that it must, but bear in mind that these players have more than interesting personalities and idiosyncrasies, so going for a more detailed picture would have resulted in a more complex feature in dramatic terms. It would have been great to get to know the story of two or three girls from their childhood to today, and while there are some examples, the truth is that they are barely sketched. Since women are the protagonists, then allow them to be shown with their many nuances.

Leaving that aside, Mujeres con pelotas is a skillfully shot documentary that scores big time when it comes to addressing a largely ignored theme that could use much more exposure.

Production notes

Mujeres con pelotas / Goals for Girls: A Story of Women With Balls (Argentina, 2013). Directed by Ginger Gentile and Gabriel Balanovsky. With Víctor Hugo Morales, Gatón Recondo, Juan Baba, Mónica Santino, Bettina Stagñares, and Paula Fernández Delgado. Editing: Ginger Gentile. Music: Ramiro Gutiérrez. Música: Kumbia Queers. Produced by Gabriel Balanovsky, San Telmo Producciones. Running time: 75 minutes.

@pablsuarez
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