Leonardo D’Agostini’s Il campione (The Champion) is the feel-good story about a successful, though reckless, young athlete whose life is turned around when he is assigned a tutor by his soccer club.
Christian (Andrea Carpenzano) is something of a rock star, living the adolescent dream of playing video games, screwing around with his friends, surrounded by girls. His irresponsibility and recklessness carry over into his sportsmanship, and his antics get so out of hand, his soccer club requires him to finish out his education and assigns him a tutor. When the club holds interviews, most everyone is starstruck by Christian’s talent, charm, and athletic prowess, and only Valerio (Stefano Accorsi) is unaware of who Christian is, least of all his abilities.
Valerio’s humility and down-to-earth demeanor are the perfect foil to keep the wild Christian in check, as the two opposites find common ground as their teacher-student relationship develops, gaining each other’s trust and building understanding of one another. The “odd couple” partnership is a very classic story, which is heightened through its filmmaking choices and a thoughtful finale.
In some ways, Il campione’s sensory elements are reminiscent of Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born for the sharp difference between Christian’s highs and lows – the high octane adrenaline rush of football matches, screwing around with his friends, going to clubs, vs the quiet, sobering discipline of studying and working to better himself. One of the standout scenes, where Christiano is troubled and botches a soccer match, is hyper real in its aesthetics; dark, unclear, in the rain, lit only by stadium lights piercing through the distance. It is shot, lit, and felt so differently from the rest of the film, and even subconsciously one can feel the dramatic impact of what’s to come.
Fortunately, there’s a happy ending (it’s a comedy!), and in the movie’s final moments, Valerio walks past a graffiti wall reading: “Chi pensa dave agire” (“He who thinks must act”), a powerful reminder of the film’s core message. When the film begins, both Christian and Valerio have awareness of their own shortcomings, whether personal, professional, or educational, but they seem settled where they’re at, compromising and selling themselves short of their true potential and what they can achieve. It is through their at first reluctant partnership, and eventual friendship, that they do take that step into the right direction and become champions for themselves and each other.
Screened at the 31st Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival in 2020.