Movie Rated: 13+
Genre: Documentary, Sports
Digital Premiere Date: 26 June 2020
What is the film about?
Sports documentaries in the world of streaming are still far and few in between, but those which you can watch online are usually on Netflix. To give credit where it’s due, Netflix’s new offering in this genre is still unique in its concept where the new series ‘Home Game’ explores eight traditions from across the world which aren’t just unique in the sports world but also tie into a historically and culturally rich heritage of the region.
For those who are tired of watching stories on and around the usual sports, then let’s head first to Italy to the brutal Calcio Football stadium where Italian men are rolling punches to score a goal in the name of nationalism or Catch Fetiche in the Congo which mixes voodoo with wrestling, water buffaloes are raced across paddy fields in Bali for makepung lampit, and women have found an equal economic and social standing by practising pehlwani in the akharas of India. They may not be broadcast around the world but there is no dearth of audience satisfaction and sheer showmanship in any of these sports. Timed at just shy of half an hour, the show is structured to give some insight into how the sport began, how it is played and what are the concerns that players face in their professional and personal lives. It is neatly packaged as a capsule of information of that world.
The strangest episode of the show is it's first, based on the ancient sport of ‘Calcio Storico’ or a form of football dating back to the 15th century. We get a beautiful look at Firenze (or Florence), the city where it is played, but we are soon plunged into the brutality of that sport where the usage of ‘punching’ and ‘slamming’ is compared to the strategy of blocking and tackling in modern versions of football. The rules are finite and fixed, explained with interesting graphics. You play for the state you are born in and cannot move to another team or club, but it is really for the love of the tradition that it is played more than anything else. While this episode can either put you off from the whole show (sheerly due to how bizarrely violent it is) or intrigue you from the perspective of its cultural resonance, it is certainly fascinating. Combining a strong voice-over, interesting graphics, genuine interviews of experts, historians and players, and striking visuals from the actual play, the episode sets the tone for the rest of the show. Because Home Game treats every sport in the same way, with matter-of-fact respect. Like Kyrgyzstan’s Kok Boru in which men play polo on horses with a dead goat stepping in for the ball. From an insider’s perspective, perhaps the tamest episodes belong to roller derby in Austin, Texas and Indian Pehlwani due to their familiarity. But the new spin on how combat is used in the former, and how gender inclusivity is the need for the latter at least provides some new information. In that way, it comes across as taking a neutral approach for a world audience, as opposed to just meant for an average American.
In some places, the show uses the same quick cuts and edits, and ‘slow motion’ camera work for the visuals for when the game is played. This is necessary in some cases like the buffalo racing because those are usually short in duration. It seems a bit unnecessary to prolong the other episodes with such shots and sometimes the length seems even more elongated due to a lot of exposition in interviews. One wishes that there were more shots and commentary to the actual gameplay, but that build-up doesn’t always reach fruition because the show has chosen to take a more human-oriented approach to the narrative. It would have also been interesting to see an audience perspective on the historical importance of these games.
Do I recommend it?
Definitely. As someone who is not into sport at all, I was still happily bingeing Home Game because it satiates the culture lover in me. And if you’re a sports fan, all the better. The show is rightfully named ‘Home Game’ because it gives a nice rounded view of what these idiosyncratic games mean to their home country, and that’s marvellous.