On the Followed Path: Between Sports and Politics

The history of cinema offers an endless selection of sports dramas. In each of them, the protagonists win or lose, seek victory or deliberately refuse it, sometimes retreating at the last moment. Inspired by real-life events, Kalev is Ove Musting’s first feature, an Estonian sports drama in which basketball players are equally driven by the desire to win or lose. The film is named after the Estonian team who surprised everyone with an unlikely run in the Soviet Union’s basketball championship in the summer of 1990.

As the Soviet Union is on the verge of collapse, the small Baltic nations struggle to regain independence and society is divided. Opinions are also divided among the members of the team: the dramatic framework of the film revolves around the dilemma of how these athletes can reconcile sports and politics, and whether it should be their responsibility to do so. Ever sin the opening scene, Kalev takes the court as an entertaining drama with solid educational value, a flashy atmosphere and a captivating story.

But what makes this sports drama different from other sports dramas anyway? The narration is after all fairly conventional, and it’s never hard to guess what is going to happen next. The editing does little more than relay the facts chronologically. The director focuses instead on the internal resistance from the team, which can be felt in the movement of the bodies, the tone of the voices and the male gaze. The exaggerated behavior of the characters creates a sense of inflexibility. The culmination moments are accompanied by music meant, as it often happens, to heighten emotions. Although we touch on the personal history of the characters, their private space is constantly absorbed by their public role.

Still, the director manages to create a mood that draws us into the narrative. The camerawork helps to draw us into the events, and the story is powerful even when it goes down a familiar path.

Nini Shvelidze