Nobody really knows how audiences will react to seeing people with disabilities in a big-screen comedy. But Spanish film “Campeones” (Champions) threads this unchartered territory and strikes comedic gold.
In director Javier Fesser’s dramedy Marcos (Javier Gutierrez) is a man seeking redemption – an assistant basketball coach with a short fuse whose life goes south after a series of unfortunate events. A brawl with the head coach gets him fired from his job. Desperate, he drunk drives and crashes against a police car.
In his arraignment, the judge makes him choose between going to jail for two years or complete 90 days of social work, training a ragtag team of players with intellectual disabilities. He chooses the latter. Compounding Marcos’ problem is his relationship with his wife who wants to have a child at any cost.
Released in 2018, Campeones is one of the 20 films featured in the cinematic catalogue of the 20th edition of Pelicula-Spanish film festival from October 1-10, 2021. Voted most favorite by Filipino audiences during the film festival three years ago, the film richly deserves its prize.
In many comedies, characters with special needs are often exploited. Stigmatized, they are made the butt of the joke. In “Campeones”, Fesser handles people with special abilities with utmost care and respect. The non-pro actors with disabilities are playing comedy, inviting the audience to laugh with them, not at them.
The film triumphs at its goal to portray disabilities in a normalized and sympathetic fashion unlike comedies where disabled people are made objects of ridicule and humiliation. “Campeones” makes people with disabilities understandable, and we feel comfortable with them. This heartwarming comedy gives us a sense of hope about what people with disabilities can do.
Making his earnest portrayal as troubled assistant coach is veteran actor Javier Gutierrez, who has made more than 50 films since his onscreen debut in 2002, among them the war drama “1898, Los ultimos, de Filipinas,” about the Siege of Baler.
Fesser personally handpicked Gutierrez to play lead, according to reports. His conviction is rooted at the fact that the actor has a son with a disability. His commitment to the film goes beyond work that he ditched the role of the “Professor” in the global hit “Money Heist” to work for “Campeones”.
Well received by audiences in Spain “Campeones” was the biggest box office film in 2018 with 23.8M USD in ticket sales. The film was also a critics’ darling winning three Goya Awards, Spain’s main national annual film award – Best Film, Best New Actor and Best Original Song. “Campeones” was also named the official entry of Spain to the Oscar foreign language film category in 2019. The film has been screened at festivals including Seattle and Italy’s Biografilm.
A dramedy with all the feels, “Campeones” will make you reach for the Kleenex after. Dubbed “a comedic slamdunk” by The Hollywood Reporter, it pushes all the right buttons to make us feel good and make us see life through a different lens.
Catch “Campeones” and other Audience Choice Award winners streaming free online at the Pelicula-Spanish Film Festival until October 10, 2021. Log on to Festival’s platform www.pelikula.es.