Associacao Chapecoense de Futebol (ACF) is a Brazilian football (soccer for those in the United States) team founded in 1973 in the small town of Chapeco, Santa Catarina. The more games the team won, the more pride in themselves and their hometown the citizens garnered. Remaining a small team from a modestly sized city, in 2016 they made international headlines for the worst of reasons. On November 28, 2016, while jetting off to play Atletico Nacional in the Copa Sudamericana (a final game in that division), their plane crashed, killing 19 players, 25 staff/ administers, 20 reporters, and seven crew members. Seventy-one people died that rainy night, with only three survivors.
The new documentary Nossa Chape shows the audience all of this with the use of news clips, interviews of the players before the crash, and footage of earlier games interwoven throughout. The film then chronicles the ACF’s attempts to rebuild their team to restore their community’s faith with new recruits, a new coach, and a season starting in a few short months. All this amidst pending legal action from the widows of the deceased and the new team facing intense scrutiny to live up to the legends of the dearly departed players.
“… chronicles the ACF’s attempts to rebuild their team…”
Let’s start with some vital information to put this review into the proper context- I do not follow sports, of any kind, at all. The World Series, World Cup, Superbowl, Stanley Cup, and US Open might as well be the exact same event for all I know about them. I find watching sports on television to be boring. I realize it must then seem I am an odd fit for this sports-centric, triumph through adversity movie. But a well made or enjoyable film, even about sports, is exactly that; Hoosiers is a remarkable and heartfelt movie, and Major League leaves me in stitches every time I watch. Now, the question is, does Nossa Chape rise to those levels, or does it leave uninformed viewers on the sideline?
Brothers Jeff and Michael Zimbalist share the writing and directing duties. Exclusively having documentaries credited to them, their skills are on full display in this movie. A tranquil aerial shot of the city opens the movie, which is intercut with footage of the energetic team and some of their games. This allows for momentum to be gained from the get-go and that energy never waivers, even in the face of great adversity. As a viewer that had no clue, such a terrible fate awaited these fun, friendly people (again, I don’t sports) it is presented as a gut punch and tears welled up. The use of archival footage of games and newscasts, along with fresh interviewers of the three survivors and the families of the loved ones lost too soon, Nossa Chape has an urgency and poignancy that several narrative dramas only wish they could achieve.
“Directed with a certain fly-on-the-wall vibe that allows the emotions to naturally unfold…”
The gracious acts done by other teams to honor the ACF show class and respect amongst the various players, coaches, and the like. Atletico Nacional concedes the game that the Football council awarded a tie in light of the crash. Thus the ACF automatically qualify for this same division game next year. The widows and wives of the surviving players became close and discuss therapy options available to them. Their plight is engaging, as they are suing the “club” (as best I could figure, the club is the owners and administers of the team) for image rights of their decided spouses. I know it sounds as if the movie devolves into evil money corporation versus the poor women just trying to get what they are owed, but no one in these cases comes off as crass or uncaring. There are sound reasons on all sides and the Zimbalist brothers make sure to include both arguments.
Allowing the ups, downs, failures, and roaring triumph back to the limelight to be shown from all angles was a gutsy move by the players, as a few of the older players (who were not on the plane for a variety of reasons) seem bitter toward the new coach or certain current teammates. But the coach realizes that the team has been acting as if they are to replace everyone, as opposed to being a brand new team, able to stand on their own. Everyone comes together, and courses correct. Thus the animosity dissolves.
You don’t need to like any sports or come to Nossa Chape already familiar with their hardships and history to appreciate the documentary. Directed with a certain fly-on-the-wall vibe that allows the emotions to naturally unfold, it is a riveting watch that does its subject proud.
Nossa Chape (2018) Directed by Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist. Written by Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist. Starring Alan Ruschel, Jackson Follman, Helio Neto, Arthur Mores, Wellington Paulista. Nossa Chape premiered at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival as part of its Documentary Spotlight competition.