Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Christopher Andre Marks.
Some of the best sports documentaries include Leon Gast’s Oscar winning 1997 film When We Were Kings, which told of the famous 1974 Rumble in the Jungle, the heavyweight championship bout between Ali and George Foreman held in Zaire; 2010’s Senna, and the Oscar winning 2018 film Free Solo. While Christopher Andre Marks’ documentary King Otto is a fascinating underdog story it is not quite in the same league as those mentioned above.
The film tells of how the Greek soccer team, rank outsiders, became European champions in 2004. The Greek team had singularly lacked success – they had never won a match or even scored a goal in international competition. For two decades they had failed to qualify for the European Championships. Their success in 2004, when they beat more highly fancied teams from France, the Czech Republic and host nation Portugal, was down to their coach Otto Rehhagel, the German born coach who was approached to lead the team in 2001.
Rehhagel had already established a formidable reputation in his native Germany. He was reserved, stiff, almost humourless and didn’t speak a word of Greek and his dour personality was a stark contrast to the emotionally demonstrative Greeks. Initially there was a lot of tension between him and the players. But aided by a translator Rehhagel transformed the team, instilling in them a sense of discipline and self-esteem. He also emphasised a more defensive style of play which frustrated the opposition and kept them goalless.
King Otto is the feature documentary debut for Marks, a Greek-American filmmaker who has extensive experience working with HBO Sports and ESPN film. The documentary incorporates lots of archival footage taken from the games themselves, and deftly edited by veterans Yann Heckmann and Chris Iversen. There are also plenty of interviews with Rehhagel himself, who seems bemused by the whole exercise, many of the players and even Vasilis Gagatsis, the head of the Greek Football Federation who was responsible for luring Rehhagel to Greece.
Not just for sporting fans, this is part a clash of cultures and partly an underdog story that holds plenty of appeal for audiences. Even though the outcome is known this is still a remarkable story.
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