I saw this one at the Asian World Film Festival in Culver City, California, where it charmed viewers so much that it won the best picture award over much higher-profile entries.
For those who are unfamiliar with the world of soccer, the rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona is the most followed rivalry in the world in any sport. When the two teams meet, the match is known as “El Clásico.”
Dwarf brothers Alan and Shirwan (played by real-life brothers Wrya and Dana Ahmed) live in the Iraqi Kurdish village of Hawraman near the border with Iran. Shirwan, who works for shoemaker Jalal, is a Barcelona fan. Alan, who runs a tea shop, couldn’t care less about soccer, but he does care about Jalal’s daughter, Gona. He and Gona want to marry, but they need the permission of Gona’s father, a difficult proposition since Gona is not a dwarf. So Alan becomes a Real Madrid fan in order to win over his beloved’s father. It doesn’t work. Jalal rejects Alan as a potential suitor for his daughter and fires Shirwan for good measure.
Desperate and undeterred, Alan comes up with a wild scheme. Jalal has made a special pair of shoes in honor of his hero, Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo. He and his brother steal the shoes and, mounting a four-wheel ATF, they head off for Madrid with the goal of presenting the shoes to Ronaldo. You need only look at a map large enough to include both Iraq and Spain to realize that this is not the easiest journey in the world. In fact, their road trip turns harrowing as they are accosted by Islamic fundamentalists who do not approve of soccer. But they also encounter a number of kind people who help them.
After the screening that I attended, director Halkawt Mustafa explained that Iraqi filmmakers normally shoot their films in Jordan, but he was determined to shoot El Clásico in Iraq itself. This was a frustrating and truly dangerous undertaking, and he vowed not to do it again. In fact, the place where he shot the scene where the brothers are attacked by fundamentalists was later, in real-life, taken over by ISIS.