This review was originally published as part of our London Film Festival coverage on 13/10/2018.
For women in post-revolution Libya, trying to “have it all” looks a little different. Freedom Fields tracks the unrelenting determination of the first Libyan women’s football team, as the recent political upheaval gives them the shot they’ve been waiting for. Until it doesn’t. Their attempts to get out on the field are continually frustrated by cultural backlash, bureaucratic rigidity – eventually, the march of time is a factor in keeping these women off the pitch. But bad knees be damned, they keep fighting.
This makes the last 30 minutes incredibly rewarding, as the team finally burst from the sidelines and make it onto the pitch. “Determination, Will, Strength” makes for an effective pre-game battle cry worthy of Coach Taylor, and it’s breathtaking to see their dreams become reality. Unfortunately, the hour before is an absolute slog. It’s a rewarding arc – but this doesn’t necessarily make for an entertaining film, as Freedom Fields is dragged down by the bleak stagnation of its subject matter.
Freedom Fields does use the hour of non-football activity to explore the lives of our unlikely revolutionaries beyond the changing room. Some are doctors, engineers – breaking the glass ceiling in their professional lives but finding their dreams withheld by tougher cultural barriers. Others are refugees, stranded in no man’s land without any sign of moving forward or backward. Their story reflects that of their team, and their nation. It’s all nuanced, fascinating stuff but doesn’t amount to a lot visually.
A tighter running time and a better exploration of the broader political context would provide the film a little more kick. Unfortunately, Freedom Fields scores an own goal, as the deliberate frustrations of its story hold it back from the engaging underdog story it could have been.
DIRECTOR: Naziha Arebi
SYNOPSIS: An intimate look at post-revolution Libya through the eyes of an aspiring all-female soccer team, whose struggle to gain mainstream acceptance mirrors the broader challenges facing women in contemporary Libyan society.