Like the Italian footballer who is its subject, “Baggio: The Divine Ponytail” leaves one feeling unsatisfied, as if we’ve seen a life and a movie that are incomplete.
A biography of one of Italy’s most beloved soccer stars, but one who never took The Big Brass Ring (winning the World Cup), “Ponytail” sets out to chart his many journeys — professional, psychological and spiritual. Letizia Lamartire’s 90+ minute film doesn’t really do justice to any of them.
We’re left with a perpetually poker-faced Baggio (Andrea Arcangeli) with “please my unencouraging father” issues, an injury-and-confidence-plagued star who takes up Buddhism as a way of coping, and a legend frustrated by the asterisk attached to his storied career.
The film poorly dramatizes his youthful embrace of Buddha, thanks to a proselytizing record shop owner (Riccardo Goretti) and leaves hints of what he might have gotten from a later spiritual advisor (Thomas Trabacchi) without sinking its teeth into the subject.
Was the filmmaker, like Catholic Italy, keeping Buddhism at arm’s length? The film doesn’t even make much of his adoption of his signature look — the ponytail that he wore in dreads even as he turned grey over his decades of playing.
His stern, remote father (Andrea Pennacchi) was the one the boy of three promised to atone for Italy’s loss in the 1970 World Cup by winning “the World Cup, against Brazil, for you” some day. That’s a big goal, and Dad never let him forget it. But “tough love” was his way.
“You’re not better than your brother,” he reminds the 18 year-old who’d signed the biggest contract ever seen. “He busts his ass at the factory!”
His home life with his first and only love, Adreina (Valentina Bellè) is glimpsed, but little more that that.
The right word for Arcangeli’s performance, which sets the tone for the film, is “mopey.”
The little snatches of soccer recreated for the screen are half-speed (there are more shots of fans at home or in bars watching the games on TV) and the Baggio Arcangeli gives us is melodramatic — “If you love me, kill me,” he tells his parents after his first (teen) injury. He is also nonplussed at his World Cup coach (Antonio Zavatteri) who is “crazy” for not exploiting his open-field “skills in dribbling” and misuses his star, who is, he assures Baggio, “like Maradona (of Argentina), fundamental to the team.” But his “temper” is more Buddhist resignation than fury.
Which is to say this isn’t so much an unflattering portrait of a great “artist” of the soccer pitch, as one that isn’t the least bit flattering either.
MPA Rating: TV-MA, profanity
Cast: Andrea Arcangeli, Valentina Bellè, Thomas Trabacchi, Andrea Pennacchi, Riccardo Goretti and Antonio Zavatteri
Credits: Directed by Letizia Lamartire, script by Ludovica Rampoldi and Stefano Sardo. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:37