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Review: Black and White Stripes: The Juventus Story

Many of the best sports films and documentaries celebrate the success of the underdog, the unheralded triumph, the unlikely champion.

Black and White Stripes – The Juventus Story isn’t one of them.

How could it be when Juventus are the biggest club in Italy, with 33 league titles and two European Cup wins among 63 major honours.

The ‘Old Lady’ has an estimated 300 million fans worldwide and has been owned by one of Italy’s richest industrial dynasties – Fiat owners the Agnellis – since 1923.

But even the mighty Juve know what it’s like to fall on hard times, and Black and White Stripes takes its cue from the 2006 Calciopoli match-fixing scandal, which saw the club stripped of two Serie A titles and relegated to the second tier.

Scandals

Director siblings Marco and Mauro La Villa tell the story of how the Turin giants fought back to return to the pinnacle of Italian football, whilst also recounting the tangled tale of the Agnelli family’s tumultuous love affair with club.

Buffon, one of the many players who took a pay to stay at Juve after their demotion, speaks eloquently about the loyalty it engenders

As Gianni Agnelli, who died in 2003, is quoted as saying at one point: “I have given more to Juventus than could ever make any sense. I just couldn’t help myself.”

The La Villa brothers capture some of this passion in their film, which features its fair share of sex, drug scandals, dirty politics and – of course – some memorable footballing moments.

They set out to make the documentary after their father – a lifelong Juve fan – died in 2001.  “We started to understand that in Italy, soccer is really the only forum for men to be emotional together,” Mauro explained at the London premiere.

Through the owner of a Italian restaurant in their home city of New York, they were introduced to Agnelli’s grandson and heir John Elkann and his brother Lapo, and persuaded the powerful pair they were right men to tell the Juventus story.

Insight

Thus, as this is an officially-endorsed film, the La Villas enjoyed access to key Juventus players past (including Michel Platini and Giampiero Bonperti) and more recent (Antonio Conte, Gianluigi Buffon), as well as members of the Agnelli family itself.

Narrated with suitable gravitas by Hollywood actor Giancarlo Giannini, the documentary gives a great insight into the club’s highs and lows since 1923, with the intriguing twists and turns of the Agnellis’ own story blending with the narrative of Juve’s triumphs and setbacks on and off the pitch.

It’s a winning combination, and you don’t have to be a Juventus fan to be carried along by the La Villa brothers’ passion project, which was 10 years in the making.

Of course, we know how the story ends, with the side currently restored to prominence in Serie A but still chasing that elusive third European title.

Goalkeeper and club legend  Buffon, one of the many players who took a pay cut to stay at Juve after their demotion, speaks eloquently about the loyalty it engenders.

Marco and Mauro La Villa’s father would be proud of the way in which his sons have honoured his love for Italy’s most celebrated footballing institution.

Black and White Stripes – The Juventus Story,  is an Eastern Canal production.

Directors dedicate Juventus film to their late father

Triumph, failure, deceit, drugs, sex, deaths, scandals: Black and White Stripes: The Juventus Story has it all.

A largely Italian crowd gathered at Notting Hill’s Electric Cinema for the London premiere, showing their absolute delight whenever their Juve heroes on the screen held aloft another Serie A trophy or European crown.

They cheered and clapped club legends as they decided to stay after the Calciopoli scandal and help the Turin giants back to the top.

They also booed whenever they saw their Milan counterparts blowing rivals away with vasts sums of money, or winning titles as Juventus languished in the second division.

And by the end they were on their feet to acclaim Mauro and Marco La Villa – the twin brothers who made the film. It felt more like being at a Hollywood blockbuster than a football documentary.

Cinematic tribute

Yet, the origins of the film are far more down to earth than the wealthy lifestyles of the Agnelli family – the industrialist owners of the club since 1923 – and their glamorous battle to dominate Italian and Europe football.

‘The movie was an Everest to climb, but a great lesson that we learnt, and hope people take from the movie, is that you need to stick together through the good and the bad’ – Marco La Villa

The aim of the movie, as co-director Marco La Villa told me, was to build a cinematic tribute for he and Mauro’s late father, Rosindo.

Despite being born in Naples, Giovanni La Villa was a lifelong Juventus fan, and when he died from cancer without having ever seen his beloved team play live, they decided to create their film in his memory. 

”He was the only Juventus fan in his family,” explained Marco.

”They came from a village near Naples, so his family all supported Napoli. He was the only black and white sheep in his family. My brother and I were raised as fans of Juve.

‘’There came a time when he was sick with cancer and we could have taken him to a match, but the time wasn’t right – he passed away and never got the chance to see the team in the stadium live, which is a major regret of ours.

‘’So we decided to build a monument to him through this film and we thought this might relate to so many fans.’’

Emotional

The La Villa brothers. Pics: Joel Knight

The experience of losing their father made the brothers realise the importance of football in helping fathers and sons bond in Italy. 

As he leans back against the wall of the cinema, arms folded and looking as cool as a cucumber, Marco explains: “Football, more than any other sport, is the emotional touch point between father and son.

‘’Mothers don’t feel they have that barrier, but fathers do and so they’re a little more in control of their feelings.

“Football gives them an arena to let it all out, allowing them to have that connection and show of emotions with their sons.

‘’It’s the same in England, so I’m told, and it’s so important.’’

Hardship

And while the film is dedicated to their father, they also wanted it to have a strong message that can relate to all walks of life, not just in football.

‘’You can’t come up with a great story without hardship,’’ said Marco, referring to Juve’s part in the 2006 Calciopoli scandal, in which several top Italian sides bribed referees.

The Old Lady was stripped of its 2004-05 league title, relegated to Serie B – Italy’s second tier – and docked nine points.

‘’Sometimes they’re very ugly and it would be stupid to hide them as the audiences aren’t silly. We want to show them the ups and downs – hopefully we can avoid them in real life.

‘’We held the premiere at the Juventus stadium and all the family and supporters were so proud; they cried and they loved it.”

‘’We had many discussions with the players, the family and the club – it took 10 years to put the movie together – and they were so much more open-minded than many other professional side would be.

”Most teams wouldn’t allow us to show so much conflict and drama, but they did and it worked so well.

‘’We held the premiere at the Juventus stadium and all the family and supporters were so proud; they cried and they loved it.

‘’The movie was an Everest to climb, but a great lesson that we learnt, and hope people take from the movie, is that you need to stick together through the good and the bad.”

As the audience milled about after the film, sharing their own tales of great Juve sides and chatting with the La Villa brothers, I’m sure their dad was up in the heavens beaming with delight at the masterpiece his sons have created about his beloved Juventus.

”All the odds were against Juventus,” said Marco. ”But the group came together – and fought against everything thrown against them. That’s a message we want everyone who watches this film to take away with them.”

The La Villa brothers were talking at the London leg of their world tour, presented by Juventus sponsors Jeep. Black and White Stripes: The Juventus Story is an Eastern Canal production.