Tigers review – teen football star quits Inter Milan in real-life mental health drama

This oddly unsatisfying and misfiring sports drama was Sweden’s Oscar submission last year; it fictionalises the real-life case of teen Swedish footballing prodigy Martin Bengtsson who was on the verge of the big time when he signed for Inter Milan in 2003, but quit soon afterwards, suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts. He was put under the extraordinary pressure of being treated like a kid at the club’s youth academy, yet showered with the kind of money that buys sports cars while being subject to the needling suspicion that he could get dropped at any time.

Erik Enge plays Bengtsson, Alfred Enoch plays his friend Ryan and Frida Gustavsson plays his model girlfriend Vibeke; writer-director Ronnie Sandahl (who scripted Borg McEnroe in 2017) can’t quite decide if the problem is with the footballing system generally or with Bengtsson himself as someone with his own mental health vulnerabilities. We get scenes with Bengtsson out clubbing with his mercurial, jealous teammates – though he is shyly and watchfully apart from the real bad behaviour.

There are training scenes, matchplay scenes, and plenty of long, slightly redundant closeups of Bengtsson’s stricken face, conveying … what, exactly? The film contains moments in which we are invited to assume that Bengtsson has issues with self-harm, and with food and OCD tendencies, but Sandahl seems also to want to take the emphasis away from this kind of purely personal diagnosis, and to talk about the dysfunctional world of elite sports. Yet even on this point, the film doesn’t quite go in for the kill. The climactic crisis itself, a much more indirect and ambiguous drama than that which appears to have been the case in real life, feels like a rather melodramatic fudge.

This is a laborious movie whose final intertitles rather superciliously assure us that Inter Milan has made greater advances than other European clubs on protecting its young players’ mental health. That claim is as cloudy as everything else.