The film “Männer wie wir” celebrates life and joy and relationships. We see that already with the first scene in the bakery. One cannot say that the children play constructively when they dash the flour about. But we can also see that the father is indulgent and kind with his children, an unusual figure for the average German education where the rule of the rod prevailed in many rural families of my youth there. The father-son relationship pops up severally throughout the film.
The background to the film is the German
Ruhr-District. This was
in the fifties and sixties a thriving coal and heavy-industries
region. I recall still
at the end of the 70’s the polluted air from coal-burning
industries. But then the
Ruhr-District’s industry took a severe downturn.
The truly only activity in the Ruhr-District is football.
When Ecki goes to
The juxtaposition of the empty soccer field,
the derelict coach returned from a nostalgically recalled past, and
the rusty machinery in the bare lunarscapes of strip-mined territory
all emphasize the changing times in the midst of which the football
prevails. As Karl Schäfer,
the coach, says with a mystically transfigured face: “Football
is no carnival; it is a religion.” 
I must remind you, by the way, that this area is heavily Roman
Catholic and so the Carnival is as strong a tradition there as the
religious elements. Religion
is serious; Carnival is its opposite.
Both are elements that Karl Schäfer’s audience can relate
One more comment about German society. Germans curse anally. When you see something in the subtitles about “fuck,” be assured that the statement made had something to do with shit instead. Cursing sexually is something that I see in very recent development—in part as an imitation of US-American patterns. And Germans are not euphemistic about their “bad” language. Even on prime-time TV, a well dressed film diva is likely to refer to a bad thing as being “Scheiße.” German culture does not appear to have that tremendous lag between a private “bad” language and a public “clean” language.
Ecki discovers himself. In conversations with his sister, he gives us an insight into his development. He cannot understand certain feelings himself until they break forth forcefully when he falls on top of his friend and ends up in an embrace and a kiss, which is observed, of course. We must recognize that he is as bewildered as everyone else. But the reactions are different. He must learn to live with himself; he has no choice. The others can simply close rank against him and do so. They act as can be expected from a group of machos, quite typical in the working-class environment of Boldrup, the village where Ecki lives. The comments are telling. “Football is War. And only men get to go into a war.” And when Ecki challenges the old team, “Why play against a horde of gay cuties; we don’t play against women either.” The macho vision is anti-gay as strongly as anti-women. Football is a man’s sport; neither women nor gays can play it from the perspective of the working-class macho. That tension sets up the problem for Ecki and all other members of the team. A repressive society requires denial, to which at first all aspire. The only gay player accepted by his family for his nature is Ercin—ironically so because Turks are Muslims, who act contrary to expectation when they do not condemn this behavior. Ercin’s father is obviously proud of his son. Consequently, Ercin is the only one who does not seem to have to cross the line from self-denial to honest self-acceptance.
The move toward self-acceptance is highlighted through several different perspectives. Sven has spread the rumor that he wants to be a gynecologist. Susanne, Ecki’s sister, knows that he cannot be gay because, as gynecologist, he must “look every day into the living room of hundreds of women.” The translation does not catch this cute euphemism for female genitalia. Susanne is in love with Sven—showing clearly how well he has covered up. Jürgen’s cover-up is also quite delightful and caricature-like. Framed by the two burly “friends” in the bar, he tries to create a myth of heterosexual relationships and of a true he-man image. I noticed his problem with a persistent stutter as he attempts to prevaricate. The gay biker-bar is a cover-up and a way of hiding away from confrontation. The divorced father, Rudolf, transcends it when he makes an effort to reconnect with his son. But he does not accept himself forcefully and without reservations. He holds back and is intimidated by his ex-wife’s assault in his hiding place.
After his wife’s assault there, he is also subjected to pressure from his mates there. “You fucked a woman,” says one incredulously. “Yes, and it wasn’t all that bad,” he answers. “That’s unnatural,” comes the final comment—an ironic one since, with tables turned, that is precisely what all heterosexuals in the audience are likely to think of the gay bar.
Another interesting scene that moves from self-criticism to self-acceptance comes during the sit-ups with Ecki and the substitute for Horst, Steffen. Steffen tells about how he has betrayed Horst when Horst has kissed him in public in front of the district-league team for which Steffen was playing at that time. Steffen says that he sent Horst “into the desert”—that is, that he has denied Horst at that time. He owes him one and thus plays as a substitute.
Ecki has not dealt honestly with his team by not telling them what this entire game is all about. A final confrontation in the soccer stadium brings all this to a head and turns the game about. Jürgen stutters, “Lying is authentically shit.” And he hesitates. And I suspect he recognizes himself at that point without being able to fully accept what he is. And so as the team find back together, each one is experiencing a break-through moment. The father-son relationship is celebrated when the young boy comes to his father’s home to challenge him to participate in the game. He manages to shame his father into living up to a higher ideal. And so the three bizarrely dressed bikers appear in the worker’s bar to recruit Jürgen, who finally comes clean that he plays soccer and that he does so with a gay team. That breaks the ice; he is out of the closet and completely clear with himself. Now he can progress toward self-realization in the full Aristotelian sense. Ecki’s visit with Sven shows Ecki’s acceptance of a love relationship, one that motivates also Sven to accept himself and his relationship to Ecki, when he shows up at half-time—having overcome Ecki’s denial of their relationship before Ecki’s former team.
Another mean-spirited and yet incredibly stupid person is Rudi, whose silly jokes are so insensitive. Alluding to Siegfried and Roy and to the Schumacher brothers—Rolf and Michael—he jokes about anal sex. He remarks before Ecki’s parents, “Where does the gay eagle fly to?—To his nest”—in German: “Horst” which is also a male first name. And finally the comment about the gay snowman with a carrot in the rear end. That is also the last one he utters because Ecki’s father transports him out of the store. Rudi’s last attempt backfires when he finds himself sitting among gays on the bleachers. In his insignificance, Rudi is symbolic for the little-minded and insensitive common-sense driven philistine, of whom one sees too many.
The father-son relationship that I have
referred to already, takes a main place in the film.
Ercin’s father is an example to all.
Ironically, he is also the one that contemporary Germans are
likely to look down on as a “Turk.”
But he is an exemplary father.
Rudolf is an exemplary father, once he has stood up to his ex
and—in the eyes of his son—when he scores the involuntary goal
by a header that just about knocks him out.
He is a hero now. And
Ecki’s father becomes exemplary when he does finally show up at
the soccer field, when he defends his son against his critics, when
he finally accepts his son and reestablishes his love of his son.
This transition is not easy; it is facilitated by Ecki’s
who does stand by him consistently, overcoming the nastiness of
villagers—typified by Rudi’s crude jokes.
He has tried everything he can think of to convert his son
from what nature has dictated to him.
The scene in the brothel is so touching when one considers
that the father does not understand his son’s nature at all.
By the way, prostitution is legal in
how truly universal the hesitancy before self-discovery really is.
“I did not know who I was,” is a line from Rudolf and one
that could have come from Ecki or any of the others involved.
Jürgen, Sven, Steffen, they all did not really know what
they were. It must be a
tremendous weight off one’s psyche to be able to come to terms and
to begin to grow psychologically into the newly accepted nature.
We must remember Ercin’s analysis.
“Every tenth man is likely to be gay. So there must be at
least thirty gay men in the Federal Soccer-League—just like
Beckham.” What that
also means is that there are plenty of unhappy people who are
denying their natures and who, for that reason, cannot come to full
I also find Susanne’s friend most interesting. He is a heterosexual male, he is in love with Susanne, and he sees what is important for Susanne in her emotional connectedness to her brother and his cause. He is also secure enough in what he is that his playing the gay football player is not a problem for him. That is so much different for hostile and aggressive action played out against gays on the part of men who are fighting their own shadow-selves in that process. Anger is a much more inadequate way to meet one’s fellow human; love is a much more appropriate path. This films shows us paths of love and paths of coming to terms with one’s self and paths toward self-realization, a point of serene happiness. Entertaining us with caricature-like bizarre behavior and costuming, the film points to a much more powerful deeper message of acceptance and love and connectedness.
And then there is the tragic figure of Karl Schäfer. He is the one player whose failed play and loss of a significant game for his team Ecki recites the events of. His regrets have become part of him. He has not shot a ball since. And he will not do so. He must atone to the gods of football, and he accepts his fate. We see him walk off at the end without shooting the ball into the goal. But in other ways, Karl Schäfer has transcended himself: by taking a love to this football club of misfits who have all transcended themselves in great part because of Karl’s assistance. When he walks away from the ball at the end, one has the feeling that he does so without the bitterness that characterized him before. The kick does not matter any more. It is indeed a religion, not a carnival, when one plays football. And it is a religion, not a carnival to feel connection among all our fellow human beings.
On the web-site of the film at http://www.movie.de/filme/maennerwiewir/main.html, you can also find a game, electronic postcards, posters, wallpaper for your computer—including the image of Karl’s walking away from the ball situated before the empty goal on the eleven-meter point. It’s worth a visit.
reviews are mixed. Critic
Dennis Harvey of Variety.com says, “A by-the-numbers ensemble
that hits every underdog and gay-fish-out-of-water cliche on the
nose, German "Guys and Balls" is so derivative it might as
well be called "
Eye Weekly gives GUYS WITH BALLS three stars. By the way, the English title seems unsteady; it is sometimes “Guys and Balls” and sometimes “Guys with Balls.” Go figure. And Eye Weekly comments: “It's easy—and depressing—to imagine an American remake of this affable German comedy, which pits a ragtag group of gay soccer players against a rival bunch of nasty homophobe footballers. No points for guessing who wins this grudge match but the build up is entertaining enough, as young ‘Crossbar Bangers’ [the translation of Latten Knaller, the name of the team] captain and goalkeeper Ecki (Maximillian Brückner) overcomes the usual laundry list of coming-out obstacles (befuddled parents, critical peers, awkwardness with a first boyfriend), thus earning his place in the climactic celebratory pile-on.”
European.net’s Boyd van Hoeij coments, “The actors (many of whom apparently are straight) seem to be a bit lost in the wealth of stereotypes and attempts at humour in the we-are-so-accepting vein; Benedikt Gollhardt’s script often confuses acceptance of different lifestyles with indifference towards how other people live. A supposedly emotional scene between a gay father (Christian Berkel) and his little son rings false because Berkel’s character is not treated with the same respect in the rest of the film, in which he is just a third of a menage-à-trois of leather-clad bike riders. This trivialises both his character and the general message of acceptance that the film wants to carry out. Technically, the film looks cured, with the cinematography of Hanno Lentz especially noteworthy during the ‘big game’ in which large overhead and crane shots and digital saturation and colouring offer us a pleasantly refreshing way of looking at a football game. Brückner as Ecki knows how to generate our sympathy but his character is bogged down by a script that relies too much on stereotypes for its humour on both the gay- and the small rural village sides. The sexuality of its characters is just an added plot twist in this mildly funny sports comedy that never seems to accept its own characters as people first and beings defined by their sexuality second.” I suspect that—perhaps—the critic misses the caricature-like hyperbole of the film. The appearance of the Brazilian carnival-dancers pushes the game, for example, to the level of hyperbole; the appearance of such dancers is not unusual in normal German variety shows. The game is a show all right; it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise.
German critic Daniel Licha also points out some of the stereotyping of the film, the predictability of its plot, and the amateurishness of the football; but he also says, “
Fazit: Männer wie wir ist harmlos,
vorhersehbar und nur bedingt lustig. Zwar ist das Potential absolut
vorhanden und teilweise sind die einzelnen Szenen recht sympathisch,
aber als Ganzes mag der Film nicht überzeugen.
In www.critic.de, Rochus Wolff says, “Als
Coming-Out-Geschichte jedenfalls kann der Film nicht überzeugen,
dafür sind – sieht man einmal von Dietmar Bär als Eckis Vater ab
– die damit verbundenen Zweifel und Probleme immer nur zu sehr
behauptet, nicht gezeigt. Auch überzeugen die verhältnismäßig
wenigen Szenen, in denen die Schwulenmannschaft beim Spiel zu sehen
ist, nicht, dass das Team schlussendlich gegen die verhinderten
Regionalligisten bestehen könnte. Das entscheidende Match ist dann
recht konventionell – der Handlung durchaus angemessen eher
Kreisliga – und ohne besondere Einfälle inszeniert.
Aber wir haben es mit einer Komödie zu tun, und als solche
wie wir ein durchaus unterhaltsamer Film. Wenn
ausgerechnet Dortmund mit einem aus einem Helikopter aufgenommenen
Blick auf Hochhäuser als große, große Großstadt eingeführt wird,
ist doch ein sonst oft vermisster Sinn für feinen Humor zu spüren,
und das abschließende Drama auf dem Ascheplatz wird selbstironisch
wie ein Western-Duell inszeniert, staubig und in Zeitlupe. So kann
der letzte Schuss auf Eckis Tor doch noch ein wenig für
stellenweise etwas zu langatmige 106 Minuten entschädigen.” –As
coming-out story, the film cannot convince.
The problems are too much reported by the film, without
letting the audience participate in the unfolding of these
problems—with the exception of Dietmar Bär’s portrayal of the
father. Also the the few
football scenes that show the gay team play do not convince
sufficiently that the team should be able to prevail against the
almost-regional-league team. The
decisive match is rather conventional at lower-league quality and
without particular inventiveness.
But we are dealing with a comedy, and as such, the film is
www.filmbesprechungen.de offers the following summary and evaluation: “Willkommen in der Steinzeit! Das stereotype Schwulenbild, das „Männer wie wir“ freudestrahlend präsentiert, ist bei weitem nicht mehr gesellschaftsfähig, sondern wirkt wie eine Reliquie aus vergangenen ‘Propagandatagen’. Aber unter einem hauchdünnen Deckmantel der Toleranz – schließlich ist die Hauptfigur schwul – wird das ganze als offenherzige Komödie verkauft. Dass über solche Klischees aber (hoffentlich) keiner lachen kann, der nicht gänzlich seinen Verstand verloren hat, vergaßen die Macher wohl gänzlich beim Produzieren des Filmes. Wer allerdings auf der Suche nach ein paar stammtischträchtigen Witzen ist und mal endlich sein Vorstellungsbild über die schwulen Mitmenschen bestätigt haben möchte, wird mit der Filmauswahl wohl gänzlich zufrieden sein. Denn nicht nur die homosexuellen Klischees werden bedient: In einem von Eckis Vater inszenierten Puffbesuch gibt es auch genügend halbnackte Frauen zu begaffen, so dass man als wahrer Mann sicherlich gänzlich aus dem Häuschen sein wird....”—Welcome to the Stone-age! The stereotypical image of gays, which “Men such as we” presents giddily, is really not socially accepted anymore; it seems like a relic from former days of propaganda. But beneath the thin cover of tolerance—after all, the main character is gay—the entire thing is being offered as comedy. That no one in his or her right mind can really laugh about these clichés—one hopes—seem to have been forgotten by these “men” as they produced the film. Whoever is looking for some jokes for the next stag-party and whoever wants to have his prejudicial image of his gay fellow humans corroborated, will be completely happy with this film selection. For not only do we get a good serving of homosexual clichés; we also get enough semi-nude women to gawk at in the visit at the brother that Ecki’s father arranges. In that way, the true macho is going to be completely satisfied with prurience and prejudice.
Thomas Malwald of Filmhai.de says, “Die Konflikte sind vorhersehbar, man ahnt beispielsweise, dass die Mannschaft rebellieren wird, wenn sie erfährt, dass sie für Eckis Rache herhalten soll. Des Weiteren gibt es zu wenig schöne Ideen im Film, etwa dass es nach Eckis Weggang in der elterlichen Bäckerei nur noch verunstaltete Brezen zu kaufen gibt. Zu den Darstellern ist wenig zu sagen. David Rott ("Ganz oder gar nicht") spielt überzeugend. Im Gegensatz zu Maximilian Brückner, der für die Hauptrolle zu farblos bleibt. Den besten Eindruck hinterlässt Rolf Zacher als miesepetriger Trainer.”—The conflicts are predictable; one anticipates that the team will rebel when it finds out that they are being used for Ecki’s revenge. Furthermore, there are only very few beautiful ideas in the film—for instance that after Ecki’s departure only formless pretzels are to be had in the parental pastry shop and bakery. There is little to be said about the actors . . . Rolf Zacher as sour and bad-tempered coach is most convincing.
Zelluloid.de offers: Der Ansatz des Filmes ist eigentlich recht interessant und witzig, aber er ist auch weit davon entfernt, perfekt zu sein. Zuerst einmal geht die Wandlung Eckis vom Hetero- zum Homosexuellen viel zu schnell, quasi über Nacht, vonstatten - ich kann mir nicht vorstellen, daß es irgendjemanden auf der Welt gibt, der sich so schnell in eine solche, neue Lebenssituation hineinfinden kann. Die fußballerischen Szenen wirken äußerst gestellt, was die Vermutung aufkommen lässt, daß der Drehbuchautor und der Regisseur sich niemals ein echtes Spiel in voller Länge angesehen haben. Die Figuren scheinen sich an real existierenden Figuren zu orientieren: Ecki sieht Erich Rutemöller sehr ähnlich, Udo so wie Michael Ballack (ja, genau der, der an diesem Wochenende einem Gegenspieler die Nase gebrochen hat) vor zehn Jahren, und Karl könnte man auch auf den zweiten Blick noch dem Schalker Manager Rudi Assauer verwechseln. Lässt man die unrealistischen Szenen auf dem Spielfeld einmal außen vor, hat der Film dann aber doch einen annehmbaren Unterhaltungswert. Die Suche nach der schwulen Mannschaft sowie die Entwicklung Eckis Leben nach seinem ‘Coming Out’ sind nett anzusehen und haben auch den einen oder anderen Lacher auf Lager. Bleibt die Frage: Gibt es in der Bundesliga wirklich keine schwulen Fußballprofis? Nach der Statistik, die der Film liefert, wäre das doch sehr unwahrscheinlich.”—The assumptions of the film are actually quite interesting and funny, but it is far removed from being perfect. To begin with, Ecki’s change from hetero- to homosexual is a bit too fast—almost overnight. I cannot imaging that there is anyone in this world who might find his way into such a new situation so quickly. The game scenes are so stilted that one supposes that the script writer and the director have never see a complete game. The characters appear to emulate really existing persons. Ecki looks like Erich Rutemöller, Udo emulates a ten-year-younger Michael Ballack (yes, the very one who has broken an opponent’s nose this weekend), and Coach Karl could be mistaken for the manager of Schalke 04, Rudi Assauer. If you ignore the unsatisfactory game-scenes, the film does have a bit pleasant entertainment value. The search for the gay team and Ecki’s life after his coming-out are nice to see and offer a good chortle or two. The question remains whether the Federal League does really not have any gay professional players. According to the statistical analysis that the film offers, such an assumption is indeed highly improbable.
All critics hasten to point out
that the film was produced by RTL, a German commercial television
corporation that clearly does pander to the lower tastes.
If any German TV corporation were to ever begin showing the
Jerry Springer show, RTL would probably be the one.
So, some of the criticism about stereotypes and cheap
sensuality is probably correct.
On the other hand, changing people’s minds about
stereotypes they hold begins by accepting the stereotypes and
working from there. The
director, by the way, is not German; she is American and moved to
The father is played by Dietmar Bär.
2000 erhielt Bär den Deutschen Fernsehpreis in der
Kategorie Bester Schauspieler in einer Serie für seine
Darstellung des Tatort-Kommissars Freddy Schenk. Bär teilt
seine Zeit zwischen Fernsehen und Kino auf und spielte unter der
Regie namhafter deutscher Regisseurinnen und Regisseure wie
Doris Dörrie, Michael Gwisdek, Lars Becker und Matti
father is being played by Dietmar Bär.
In 2000, Bär received the German TV-Prize in the
category “Best Actor in a series for his portrayal of a
detective in the extremely successful German series “Tatort”
(Crime Scene). He
also worked with Doris Dörrie and other outstanding
Im Laufe seiner Karriere arbeitete Rolf Zacher [Berliner] immer
wieder mit internationalen Regisseuren von Weltruhm, darunter R.
W. Fassbinder, Reinhard Hauff, H. W. Geißendörfer, Arend Agthe,
Vadim Glowna, Robert van Ackeren und Dani Levy. Zu den eindrücklichsten
Arbeiten, mit denen sich der Ausnahmeschauspieler in das Gedächtnis
der Zuschauer einbrannte, gehören u. a. seine Darstellungen in
"Berlin Alexanderplatz" (1980), "Der Zauberberg"
(1981), "Die Venusfalle" (1991),
"Der Brocken" (1991), "Weibsbilder"
auf Kippe" (1998) und "Väter" (2002).
Rolf Zacher plays
Coach Karl Schäfer. He
Nach seiner Ausbildung an der Otto-Falckenberg-Schule spielte
Maximilian Brückner [Ecki] in Klassikern wie Shakespeares
"Was ihr wollt" oder Schillers "Die Räuber"
am Volkstheater München.
Susanne is played by Lisa Maria Potthoff.
Like Maximilian Brückner [Ecki], she graduated from a
acting school, did most of her work on stage and TV.
She is also a student of history. Maximilian
Brückner, who plays Ecki, comes from fairly directly from
acting school and stage. Sister
Susanne is being portrayed by Lisa Maria Potthoff, who also is a
brandnew actress from acting school.
 Christian Berkel hat mit Ingmar Bergman, Douglas Sirk und Bertrand Tavernier gearbeitet und im deutschen Sprachraum mit bekannten Regisseuren wie Helmut Dietl, Dieter Wedel, Dominik Graf und Peter Patzak. Der zweisprachig aufgewachsene Berkel (deutsch/französisch) wurde 1998 mit dem Goldenen Gong für den Tatort "Schwarzer Advent" ausgezeichnet.-- Im letzten Jahr drehte er zusammen mit Oliver Hirschbiegel in St. Petersburg und München die Bernd Eichinger Produktion "Der Untergang", in dem er den Reichskanzleiarzt Prof. Schenck spielt.
 Saskia Vester plays Ecki’s mother. Die Schauspielerin, die ihre Ausbildung an der Neuen Münchner Schauspielschule erhielt, hat sich in den vergangenen Jahren vor allem als TV-Schauspielerin profiliert. Dennoch fand sie immer wieder Zeit, in ausgewählten Kinoproduktionen und mit bekannten Regisseuren wie Tom Tykwer ("Winterschläfer") oder Nico Hofmann zu arbeiten. Saskia Vester played Ecki’s mother. She has worked mainly for TV, but she also had a role in Tom “Run Lola Run” Tykwer’s “Winterschläfer.”