Cinema | ‘Die besten Frauen,’ the best women (w/ video)

Ian Plenderleith, not for the first time, has done great service by offering a synopsis and highlights in translation of director Britta Becker‘s 90-minute documentary Die besten Frauen der Welt (The Best Women in the World).

The trailer from Die besten Frauen der Welt, including, toward the start, the German players creating what Der Spiegel calls “die Nebelwand aus Haarspray,” “the fog wall of hairspray,” to ensure match-action stability. (Little Shark Entertainment GmbH)

Ninety minutes seems to be the mandatory length of a football-themed documentary or feature. In this case, Becker has trimmed from 120 hours of footage, dating to the Mar 07 Algarve Cup. The film had its premiere in Frankfurt on Dec 17 and its cross-country screening on Jan 2 on German channel ARD. It releases to DVD in March.

German reviewers have made the inevitable comparisons to the Sönke Wortmann–directed Deutschland: Ein Sommermärchen (Germany: A Summer’s Fairytale), which earned nationwide cinema exposure. Wortmann, a co-producer for Becker’s work, tracked Jürgen Klinsmann and the German men’s team through the patriotic rediscovery that the 2006 World Cup finals helped kindle.


Assessments of Die besten Frauen agree that the German women come across as more authentic, more accessible, than their male counterparts (see reviews in Der Spiegel and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and an interview with Becker in women’s online magazine brikada). Part of Becker’s mission was to learn about women who, to most Germans, remained a collection of anonymous personalities despite their World Cup title in the USA in 2003. Der Spiegel observes that, in contrast to blanket coverage of male footballers, Germans most likely had never seen a women’s team sing the national anthem.

So, the viewer accompanies the players in intimate fashion on what FAZ correlates to a girls’ class trip, albeit to a business-class hostelry with their own chef.

In an indication of some gender struggle within German society, defender Sonja Fuss tells filmmakers she played for a boys’ team for a year under a false name. Midfielder Fatmire Bajramaj, a native Kosovar who as a girl also was forced to play soccer in secret, confesses to owning 30 pair of shoes. “Is it too much?” she wonders.

In the main, these footballers appear rooted in the real world, occupied with earning a living wage, which in most cases will not come through football, or with their studies. Striker Birgit Prinz states that life without sport brings languor, but nevertheless eschews the lure of power and money. “This is not what makes me happy.” And, again, commenting on the interview and chat-show requests following the championship, “I do not want to live in such a society.”

The urban life of Shanghai supplies part of the mise-en-scéne, with star goalkeeper Nadine Angerer learning that the country “is not only rice fields.” Angerer’s rivalry with and ultimate displacement of stalwart Silke Rottenberg helps create dramaturgy, according to Becker, as do samplings of cross-cultural gamesmanship: the pre-game fervor of Argentina in the first match and Brazil in the last.

In the end, Germany cruised through the six matches without allowing a goal. The biggest challenge may have come from one of the refereeing crews, who cautioned the German players on the length of their fingernails. Frantic manicures ensued.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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