Starring newcomer Erik Enge, Black Spark Film’s Tigers tells the extraordinary true story of Swedish soccer star Martin Bengtsson, who made his international debut at just 17 years old. In stark contrast to many other sporting movies, which tend to focus on stories of triumph over adversity, Ronnie Sandahl’s movie from Black Spark Film examines the true cost of success in the world of professional football and the pressures that almost cost Bengtsson his life.
Accompanied by cast members Alfred Enoch, who plays Bengtsson’s American teammate Ryan, and Frida Gustavsson, who plays his model girlfriend Vibeke, Sandahl said during Deadline’s Contenders Film: International event that Sweden’s Oscar entry this year had been a long time in the planning.
“It’s been with me for a number of years,” he said. “I met Martin Bengtsson when we were both in our early 20s, coming out with our books. I was a novelist back then and I wanted to make films, but I hadn’t even made my first short film. And when we were drunk, we made a pact that, when I was ready, I was going to make the movie based on his story, and, from his side, he would say no to everybody who approached him.”
The film follows Sandahl’s last film as screenwriter, 2017’s Borg vs. McEnroe, which depicted the intense rivalry between ’80s tennis stars Björn Borg and John McEnroe.
“As a filmmaker,” he said, “the world of professional soccer is like a buffet of topics that I think are interesting to portray in movie. I mean, it’s like a fun house mirror of society, on a bigger scale, when it comes to masculinity or when it comes to capitalism.”
Happily, Sandahl revealed that the real Bengtsson has given the film his seal of approval, despite its honest depiction of his struggle with depression. “He was quite shaken when he saw the film the first time,” said Sandahl, “but he’s been incredible in how he’s been supporting the movie and giving me all the freedom [I needed] to tell the story the way I wanted to tell it. I think it’s been a closure in many ways for him.”
Check out the panel video above.