Mario Lüthi (Max Hubacher) is a promising young striker on a Swiss Under-21 football team. He lives with his parents, practices hard, eats right, maintains good relations with his teammates, and generally stays out of trouble. His orderly world is disrupted when a German striker, Leon Saldo (Aaron Altaras) is traded to the club. In many ways they are opposites, starting with (as is often the case in films) their hair color: Mario is blonde, Leon dark-haired. Leon is also a risk-taker, something of a ball hog, and likes to stir things up. Both are gay, but Mario is firmly in the closet, while for Leon his sexual identity is fundamental and he’s not willing to suppress it.
The two men are assigned to share an apartment, and before long the inevitable happens. Mario takes some initial steps to come out, with varying results—his mother (Doro Müggler) is supportive while his father (Jürg Plüss) is less accepting and is also concerned about how a public revelation could impact Mario’s chances for a professional football career (it’s obvious that he is in part living vicariously through his son). Team officials are even less pleased, because having an openly gay player on the team could make it difficult for them to get and keep sponsors. But wait–Mario has a convenient and platonic female friend (Jessy Moravec) whom he has known from childhood, so one obvious solution is to entice her to act as his beard. He makes a decision which I’m not going to spoil here, but I will say that Mario does not shy away from portraying the consequences of that decision.
Footballers are noted for their fitness, and directeor Marcel Gisler, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Thomas Hess and Frederic Moriette, takes advantage of the opportunity to put some of those well-toned bodies on display in various stages of undress. On the whole, however, Mario is a fairly chaste film (it was rated “suitable for all audiences” in France, but got an 18 certificate in the U.K.: make of that what you will) that focuses attention not so much on what Mario and Leon do in bed, but on the choices they make about concealing or revealing their sexual identities and how that affects their general life chances. The acting and production values are good throughout, with Hubacher and Moravec winning Best Actor and Best Performance in a Supporting Role, respectively, at the 2018 Swiss Film Prize.
Mario is a sports film as well as a GLBT drama, and the football sequences (mostly of practice, but isn’t that how most athletes spend most of their on-field time?) are convincing. The film also captures the pressures put on young athletes to conform and avoid anything that might hurt their chances to advance, because there are so many talented players and an opportunity might just as well go to someone else instead of you. To put it another way, it’s a much bigger risk to come out in a homophobic environment when you are still working your way up to the big time than it is to come out once you have reached the top—the latter may cost you endorsements and popularity, but the former could mean that you never get to have a career at all. | Sarah Boslaugh
Mario is available for rental or purchase on VOD from Wolfe Releasing.