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Is there such a thing as a human life’s one totemic, defining event?
Or is our time on this earth just a series of tiny moments, the dots on a pointillist painting, the overall shape only meaningful when viewed at a distance?
And so to Bert Trautmann. He broke his neck, you know. In an FA Cup final. Played on and won it.
It is difficult to imagine anyone with even a passing interest in new biopic The Keeper not knowing the story of the German Manchester City goalkeeper and the 1956 FA Cup final.
This poses something of a puzzle for the filmmakers.
a) Set the Big Event at the end, and go for a straight sports film, building up to the fist-pumping moment when the hero goalie defies disaster to cling on to the trophy?
b) Start further back in the subject’s story, get to know them and the world they live in slowly and painstakingly, and thus put the Big Event in psychological context?
c) Treat the Big Event as no more or less valid than any other particle of life’s cosmic dust for a free-form, existential riff on the nature of being and loss?
This film, which I enjoyed and commend to you, takes an unusual choice of going for a buffet solution. There’s a solid helping of option a) but also quite a bit of option b) and then a hard and rather juddering late turn into option c).
As to the subject matter, there will be some who want to tally the movie’s take on the Trautmann story against the exact timeline and tenor of the historical facts, but this film is certainly more than faithful enough to do a job, and it is more balanced and grown-up than City’s recent Amazon in-house hagiography All or Nothing, for instance.
The Bert of the movie, interred in a prisoner of war camp in St Helens at the end of the Second World War, manages to get himself out of latrine detail in favour of playing for the local non-League side.
From there he is spotted by, and signs for, Manchester City, where initial fan hatred for his nationality and part in the war (he was no mere conscript grunt: this is a paratrooper with an Iron Cross) turn to grudging acceptance and later a place in the City pantheon.
Trautmann is played with an appealing mixture of Teutonic bloody-mindedness and quiet charm by David Kross, the German actor who first came to prominence opposite Kate Winslet in the 2008 Anthony Minghella-produced drama The Reader.
Scot Freya Mavor co-stars as the daughter of the St Helens football manager who becomes the object of Trautmann’s affections; Kross and Mavor make a cute pair and things go along nicely, if not pacily, for most of the longish 120 minutes.
There are a couple of teasing foreshadowing scenes involving the most famous neck in football: Trautmann wears, and loses, a pendant that has emotional significance, and there is a fun bit of business when the St Helens Town trainer attempts to pass the German off as “Bert from Bradford” who has lost his voice and thus requires a scarf.
Anyone bar a Manchester United fan will probably find the passage to Wembley glory enjoyable fare, but there is then a peculiar tonal shift in the last quarter after a shocking event.
The simple question of stopping goals, and even winning the love of former enemies, seems trite indeed compared to this incident and its aftermath.
The film is a German-British co-production, unfashionable though that might seem in these Brexit times, and it all goes distinctly continental and arthouse with shots of desolate beaches, unreliable hallucinatory points-of-view and, regrettably, experimental jazz.
Whether viewers who have come for the football yarn will go along with this segment remains to be seen, but the film has interesting points to make about leaving the past behind that, alas, still seem well beyond the grasp of some today in football and beyond.
“The Keeper” is in cinemas nationwide from April 5