TIFF Review: How discrimination kicked Israeli soccer team

Still from Forever Pure (Photo courtesy of TIFF)

Still from Forever Pure (Photo courtesy of TIFF)

TIFF REVIEW: Forever Pure

DIRECTOR: Maya Zinshtein (Israel)

GENRE: Documentary, 87 minutes, 14A

RATING: 3.5/4 stars

Director Maya Zinshtein’s documentary Forever Pure shows Israel’s soccer giant Beitar Jerusalem Football Club at war from within.

Before watching this film, I did not know much about mideast conflicts. The film effectively tells the story of what happened when two Muslim players joined Beitar, and the conflict that ensued as a result.

Since its inception in 1936, Beitar, whose crest features a menorah framed within a shield and a laurel wreath, had never signed a Muslim player until 2013. It was during the 2012-2013 season that Beitar’s Russian owner, Arcadi Gaydamak, signed two Muslim players from Chechnya. This decision pitted the club and its players against its most loyal and most anti-Islam fans.

The film documents these events by profiling a wide array of characters. Each one makes a unique and significant contribution to illustrating the issue of systematic discrimination within the club.

The film shows that Gaydamak is part of a long line of diplomats who had attached themselves to Beitar for political gain. He admitted in the film that his dislike of soccer keeps him from regularly attending matches. His absentee ownership started off as comical but ultimately showed his cowardice.

Goalkeeper and club captain, Ariel Harush, who in an early scene was swarmed and hugged by adoring fans following a practice, quickly lost the backing of fans after he welcomed the Muslim players.

Argentine defender Dario Fernandez, the movie’s seemingly lone neutral party, merely shrugged his shoulders and quietly questioned why nobody could get along.

Zinshtein does a brilliant job of showing the steep decline of relations between the club and its fans.

The deep love that La Familia, Beitar’s most raucous fans, had for the club was mutual. In one particularly moving scene after a victorious game set early in the season, a back-and-forth chant between some players and a wall of thousands of fans, all dressed in Beitar’s yellow and black, screaming in Hebrew at the top of their lungs.

“I love you,” one group chanted.

“I swear,” the other responded.

“Think about you anywhere, all the time,” the back and forth continued.

Upon the arrival of “the Muslims,” as they were referred to by local media outlets, Beitar’s fortunes on the field took a dive, and the club eventually dropped down to the bottom of the league. The fans used the new midseason arrivals as scapegoats for their club’s decline.

The two new players were unable to avoid a constant barrage of hate in their new surroundings.

It was interesting to observe the way the club declined over the course of the film, and the way the relationship with its fans deteriorated because of the two new players. The film does an excellent job at capturing the night and day difference.

In a post-screening Q-and-A at the TIFF festival, Zinshtein described the torment that she witnessed from the moment the new players arrived, as “mayhem.”

Some parts of the film were difficult to take in, but it’s an important story to understand. For people who don’t know much about what’s going on in the Middle East, the film helps to give a better sense of understanding of the tensions on the ground. It humanizes the conflict in a better way than a news article could.

Forever Pure is a story of a social war that is ultimately won by the wrong side. It’s a disturbing lesson of how, as Zinshtein said, “racism destroys from within.” It is an unfortunate and yet important reminder that our world is far more flawed than we know.

 

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