Documentary Review: Vatican City priests and seminarians compete on the soccer pitch in “The Holy Game”

“The Holy Game” sets out to give the Catholic Church a little image burnishing by showing how its stages a civil, sportsmanlike soccer matches among the various seminaries and schools of Rome, in and around Vatican City.

It’s called The Clericus Cup, a mini “World Cup” for pre-ordination seminarians and some of their teachers and mentors, playing on behalf of Pontifical Urban College, North American College’s Martyrs, Mater Ecclessiae, Redemptoris Mater, schools filled with players from five continents and 66 nations.

One young priest compares it to the Quidditch World Cup of the “Harry Potter” novels. Considering the names of the colleges and teams, it’s no wonder than analogy caught on.

But as we meet a sampling of the player/seminarians, see practices and watch soccer matches (not awful) play out, as we get a glimpse of the lives these men lead in their pursuit of a life of “self sacrifice” that is “not a job, a vocation,” taking vows of poverty and chastity as they talk about “putting all their trust in God,” the Elephant in the room is poking his nose over our shoulders, and theirs.

For most of the people he’s met after announcing his choice of vocations, Grayson Heenan says, “The only press they’ve heard about the Catholic Church is negative.” That’s ongoing and no, he doesn’t know what to say to that.

Some of the men speak of the lives they might have led and we get a hint of regrets. Their teachers, directors of colleges, talk about pursuing “happiness…that goes beyond fame and glory and money,” a student speaks of the “sacrifice for the greater good.”

Still others ponder why there are pedophiles in the priesthood, and TV news coverage shows TV anchors and Catholics around the world reacting to the shocking crimes the church has covered up.

And then, sure enough, one of the priests we’ve seen on camera, waxing lyrical about the calling and the work, is exposed as one of “those” priests. Not an usher-boy molester, but just a “celibate” who fathered children post-ordination.

Of course this hijacks the movie, a light treatment of the final years of a priest’s education, showing us how they’re trained to give the last rites in hospitals, for instance, and setting an example of how futbol should be played (they give out “blue cards” as penalties, in which the offending player goes to the sideline and “spiritually reflects” on what he’s done).

Which begs the question, “When the whole point of your movie is undercut, what should a filmmaker do?” Was there a way to re-cut it, re-direct the focus and make this somehow worthwhile, at least in a “slice of life about the priesthood today” sense?

No. Directors Brent Hodge and Chris Kelly were at a loss about what to do, and cannot “finesse” that grenade that went off in their footage. The picture is only 67 minutes long, making you wonder what had to be left out as they scrambled to “pivot” and take in the film’s new reality. The version I watched had “rights” clearance issues, people whom they talked to who might not agree to appear in the final cut.

They probably should have accepted that they’d wasted resources, time and effort on a movie that was never going to work, even at the truncated 67 minutes this one comes in at.

“The Holy Game” just leaves us wondering if maybe the sexually problematic Catholic Church should take off the cleats, stop moralizing about others and playing politics and take a red card. Sit down and shut up until they’ve fixed their catastrophic, faith-killing, life-shattering problems.

And Gravitas Ventures? When did you guys lose the judgement that should tell you when a lightweight “Vatican clerical students play soccer” doc is rendered unfit to release?

MPA Rating: unrated

Cast: Grayson Heenan, Mike Zimmerman, Eric Atta Gyasi, Father Oscar Turrion, Felice Alborghetti

Credits: Directed by Brent Hodge and Chris Kelly. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:07

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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