While submitting an Asghar Farhadi feature to the Oscar’s foreign film category might be considered a no-brainer, Spain chose differently, passing over two-time Oscar winner’s Cannes Film Festival opener Everybody Knows, which was produced with the country’s money and starred two Oscar-winning national treasures Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, and selected filmmaker Javier Fesser’s heart-warming comedy-drama and local box office hit Champions. To date in Spain this year, it’s the highest grossing local Spanish film with $23M, and it leaves audiences in tears.
In the movie, Spain’s leading man Javier Gutiérrez plays cocky big league assistant basketball coach Marco Montes who assaults his colleague during a televised game. He’s fired, but life gets worse: Drunk, he front-ends his vehicle into a police car. Life is already bad as he’s on the outs with his wife Sonia (Athenea Mata). In receiving a community service sentence he’s forced to coach a team of young people with disabilities. And though his patience is tried, Marco builds them into a competitive tournament-winning team and along the way, matures and becomes a grounded guy.
Fesser assembled a team of actors with disabilities, and while their characters struggle with basketball in the movie, in real life, “on the first day, first minute, they were a real team, and they didn’t know each other before” says Fesser.
In the video above, from a recent Awardsline screening this week, Fesser and Champions star Athenea Mata talk about how they assembled the team for Champions and Gutiérrez’s personal attraction to the project. Take a look.