"I love you, but why can’t I love you openly and honestly? Is it only because we are professional football players?"
I remember a remarkable paragraph from the book Normal People by Sally Rooney, where it talks about a male protagonist who is afraid that his image in the school might be tarnished if the relationship he has had with the female protagonist is to be exposed. As a result of this fear, the couple never really publicly display their love to one another and keep it a closed secret between themselves. It is here that the aforementioned plot shares some commonalities with Mario, the subject of our review for the Pride Month special. But as opposed to Normal People, Mario is a tale of two homosexuals as it authentically tries to capture the struggles of how queer people lie to themselves and pretend to be who they are not just in order to fit and adapt themselves into the toxic standards of the heteronormative world.
Mario tells the tale of Mario, a certified player in a professional football team in Switzerland, and Leon, a skilled newcomer from Germany. Both, Mario and Leon are off to a good start as they begin playing phenomenally well and soon become the brightest stars in their team. All this while, their relationship begins to escalate into affection and desire for each other privately. However, the unspeakable rule of being a professional athlete and the constant threats from their teammates ultimately takes a toll on their clandestine relationship.
The film begins on a sexual note, the very first scene capturing the very sight of Mario’s usual lonely nights. He is first seen playing video games and then helping himself to a round of instant sexual gratification. However, after meeting Leon, Mario finds someone to play the video games with only for them to eventually start “helping each other out” with an intense desire and appetite for one another. The scenes help highlight the stark difference of what becomes of Mario's life after he lets Leon in it. Although the film begins with the exploration of sex and other forms of bodily pleasures, it eventually catapults into something more pure and emotional with both of them professing their love for each other.
But this love that they share for each other, can it truly be as free-flowing as the very essence of water? What can be noticed throughout Mario is the constantly reoccurring imagery of water that is repeatedly inserted across several scenes in the film. Take, for instance, the photograph of a whale in the sea beside Leon’s bed for an example. Upon noticing the photo, Mario thoughtfully buys Leon a whale-like necklace as a gift. Or the time they go on a trip and they come across another picture of an island with a whale in the sea, innocently promising each other to visit the place shown in the picture together in the future. Quickly, the movie moves to another scene where Mario and Leon find themselves playing with water in a river. However, it is only at the end of the film that imagery of water hits the hardest where we notice Mario, alone and by himself, staring into the sea and the boats that ride through it through his window. He finds it hard to go anywhere, no matter how hard he tries.
Symbolically, Leon is representative of a whale, completely focused and intent on being himself, as naive and childlike as a kid. He actively opens himself up to Mario, relentlessly showing the affection and emotions that he has for him. Leon rebelliously chooses to fight against his teammates who try to discriminate or laugh at their relationship. And when it came to making the pivotal decision of having to choose between his dream and his love, Leon ultimately decides to go with the once-a-lifetime choice called love, leaving no regrets behind.
Mario, however, is of a ruthless, ambitious personality. To achieve his long-kept dream of being a top-notch professional football player, he asks Leon not to show his affection to him publicly and even goes on to fiercely deny their relationship just in order to get the ticket to play in the German division one league. In contrast to the naive Leon, Mario chooses a path composed of a million lies that he made to accomplish his ultimate dream of being a football star. And although he finally achieves the goal that he always sought, upon reflecting and looking back at his life and the treacherous path he took, the only thing he can notice is the damage and suffering he has caused to his loved ones and the irreparable relationships and lost love they decided to let go of.
Upon reflecting onr Mario’s path and the deceitful decisions he made, we are forced to ask ourselves as to why our society creates this dilemma for the queer football players? Throughout the movie, we are shown scenes of Mario’s agent constantly telling him that a homosexual interaction between two players is a taboo in the football world. If that is the case, why is that these companies who own the teams always claiming that they aren’t anti-LGBT on one hand but all the while still allowing this dilemma to exist on the other? It is evidently clear that the world and societies that we live in are built and covered by layers of lies. So before everyone can truly embrace those who are different from themselves, the queer community has to put up with this injustice and make the tragic decisions that Mario did.
Through the course and events of the movie, we become aware of how Leon's honesty costs him the opportunity to play in the German division one league. But in spite of the setback, Leon is still content with who is and lives happily and carefree in his own way. Mario, on the other hand, is ultimately left depressed, with his only hope is being able to see Leon again. In the end, Mario manages to score a timely goal in the final game, ultimately leading his team to victory and fulfilling his dream of becoming a professional football player. However, there’s no Leon around him to celebrate the victory and instead, it's his loneliness and emptiness that strike him once again and leave him submerged in it.
Through the ebbs and flows of the perfectly imperfect relationship that Mario and Leon shared, every hug they had is extremely touching. They hug for happiness. They hug for loneliness. They hug for reconciliation. Likewise, every apology they said is also equally heart-breaking. They apologize for honesty. They apologize for selfishness. They apologize for lost love.
Moreover, the performances by the two actors give another flavor to the film. The occasional eye contact, authentic expressions, and natural rapport with one another all help take the film to another level. Not to mention the ingenious use of the music which smoothly sublimates the movements of football and also helps the audience to witness their love from the beginning to the end at a much lighter pace. All in all, Mario might come off as being slow and heavy in a sense but never boring and dragging. Instead, through the movie, you can genuinely feel the hopelessness and indignation in the air of society especially when it comes to queer sports players.
Similar to the idea of the novel Normal People by Sally Rooney, all of us are ultimately normal people. We are lonely, we long for relationships, and have a desire to love and fall in love. But is it possible that in some other time and space, we as humans won’t be forced to choose between our love and our dreams simply because we are gay? Perhaps yes. Perhaps no. Nevertheless, before such a time and space becomes an actual reality, all we can do to go ahead is to choose love. For with love, we can overcome everything.
Fresh from Germany, skilled Leon joins a professional football team in Switzerland, where he meets blond, handsome Mario. As they train, have fun, and score together, the two young men bond with each other in a way they never expected to. Soon, their relationship would cause the rest of the teammates to talk, and even get themselves in trouble. Being truly in love for the very first time in his life, what is Mario to do? Figure it out for yourself by watching the full-length feature film on GagaOOLala.