Did you know there is a sport in Florence, Italy that hasn’t matured or evolved since its medieval origins?
Each of the participants of Calcio Storico, a sport that traces its origin back to the Siege of Florence, could put Brock Lesnar to shame. The men look like Greek Gods born in Florence. For them, no injury is too serious and no pain is unbearable. They kick and punch until a jaw is broken, or, if you believe the Florence legend, an eyeball pops out into one’s hands.
The motive in Calcio Storico is to outscore your opponent team; a little like football but in an environment far removed from what you imagine. And the prize? A cow.
Weird sporting traditions like the Calcio Storico is the focus of new Netflix documentary series Home Game. British actor Mark Strong narrates the eight-episode series (of approx. 25-30 mins long) which gives a surface-level introduction to these “sports” and the cultural heritage that make the locals savour them.
Some of these sporting traditions date back 5,000 years, we are told, like the Kok Buru in Kyrgyzstan, while some are more recent, like the Texas Roller Derby that was established in 2001. All of them are equal parts crazy, however.
In as much the same way, these sports are also tales of endurance, culture and history. For some, like the Roller Derby girls, their sport is a liberating space; one where they get to be wild free of judgement and be the superwomen that they are (all of them can take a mean punch). For others, like the freediving ‘Imam’ of Philippines, it is an opportunity to inspire his tribe, a noble pursuit of recognition.
The cinematography featured in Home Game is stellar. Not even multi-million pound TV deals could guarantee the kind of footage we get to see in the epsiodes Calcio Storico and Kok Buru. The deep sea footage in the freediving episode centred on Philippines is another example of remarkable camera work and sound design.
Yet the choice of episodes isn’t all that inspiring. For instance, the episode of Catch Fétiche, or the voodoo wrestling that is extremely popular in DR Congo. Catch Fétiche is what you get when you mix WWE with the Malayalam film Trance. Here there is no one Undertaker or Boogey Man. Almost every wrestler getting in the ring claims to believe in or harness the power of voodoo magic to win matches.
However, the stories of the men and women involved in Catch Fétiche would make for wonderful stories. Like Guyga, who wrestles just so he could put food on the plate for the nine children dependent on him. Or how Catch Fétiche empowers women of DR Congo.
That is the biggest drawback in Home Game. It lacks the bite on the storytelling front. The series remains content merely scratching the surface and introducing these sporting traditions to the viewer.
While Home Game also aspires to have its own fly-on-the-wall moments during the series, the interactions between the men and women in the videos do not seem organic. This could be a contributing factor for people thinking the series is not ‘binge-able’.
The surface-level presentation also means that the producers were content glazing over issues — like in the episode Pehlwani, which shows two Indian girls making the grade in mud wrestling, issues like caste and how menstruation is used as a social oppression tool against women in general is never discussed.
Home Game may not offer you the in-depth coverage sports documentaries are generally known for, but it is the right kind of choice on day when you just want to be distracted for 30 minutes watching (and learning) absolutely weird sporting traditions that people swear their lives by.
Home Game is currently streaming on Netflix