Netflix UK film review: This Is Not a Ball
James R | On 13, Jun 2014
Director: Vik Muniz, Juan Rendon
Cast: Vik Muniz
The World Cup kicked off last night – and with it comes This Is Not a Ball, a documentary that follows Vik Muniz’s attempt to build a gigantic piece of football art. He collects together 10,000 balls to assemble on two playing fields: Mexico’s Azteca stadium and the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Which begs the question: if this is not a ball, what is it?
Vik’s film, co-directed with Juan Rendon, explores such deep questions in between footage of him assembling the installation. The actual art is a neat demonstration of the universality of the football, a symbol recognised the world over. But do we need an hour and a half to see it all come together? The ambitious project brings to mind the 90s show Art Attack, when popular TV personality Neil Buchanan would create a large sculpture from tiny, everyday objects. While those Art Attacks unfolded in a stunning 90-second time-lapse montage, watching the same thing take place over 90 minutes is somewhat less thrilling.
The other segments, though, prove that the sport has more substance to it than tournament fans may realise. Muniz travels the globe to quiz a range of people about the significance of football. The enthusiasm of Brazilian children, who make balls out of anything they can find, is a familiar, but never dull, sight, which the movie contrasts with the struggle facing workers in a football factory, who experience the sport as nothing more than a necessary source of physical labour. A leading female footballer, meanwhile, tells us how she used to kick around a plastic bag full of paper as a kid. Along with the inspiring sight of amputees who play on crutches, she is a subject that demands more screen time.
Instead, we get lots of interviews with Cosmos presenter and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, a man who belongs in a football film as much as Clive Tyldesley belongs in a commentary box. There’s something bizarrely hypnotic about Tyson’s excited delivery as he waxes lyrical about the fact that humans can only play with balls because of the ball joints in their skeletons. When he proposes the idea of dropping 10,000 balls out of a helicopter, an act that would see them bounce off each other at 10 times their original force and rocket back up to the chopper’s height, you get excited that we might actually see it happen.
Alas, Muniz is too busy using the helicopters to film his Art Attack. There is a nice glossy sheen laid over the aerial sequences, like a brochure in an art gallery, but the practical minutiae involved in the project goes well into extra time.
With its bitty structure and array of subjects, you suspect This Is Not a Ball would make for a much more interesting series of shorts: in-depth 15-minute pieces focusing on each person or issue, perfectly timed to slot into half-time intervals during World Cup matches. In its current form, though, the documentary feels less like a feature film and more like a string of worn leather patches loosely stitched together. This Is Not a Ball – but it’s certainly filled with a lot of air.
An impressive piece of art unfortunately presented in a less intriguing format.