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Argentina: Telling stories through soccer

Q&A: The author of "The Secret in Their Eyes" on his passion for soccer and his upcoming film.

Argentina soccer, Independiente
Two boys, supporters of Argentina's Independiente, cheer their team against San Lorenzo on April 10, 2010. (Alejandro Pagni/AFP/Getty Images)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentine writer Eduardo Sacheri has impish eyebrows and is downright punchy when he hears Americans use of the word "soccer," rather than "football."

The crime thriller "The Secret in Their Eyes," based on a novel by Sacheri, took home the prize for best foreign-language film at the Oscars this year, but before Sacheri found box-office success, he was best known in Argentina for his short stories about soccer.

GlobalPost sat down with Sacheri to talk about his upcoming project and about the role of Argentina's passion for soccer in his writing.

Why do you write about soccer?

I never said to myself, "I'm going to write soccer stories." The decision was to write stories about everyday people, like the people I know. I grew up in a suburb of Buenos Aires and my children are growing up in one too. What interests me are everyday lives — everyday love, pain, longing, death. And along that horizon lies soccer. To write stories about soccer is one way to portray these kinds of lives. It's not the only way, but it's a good way. Just as love, pain, or tragedy inhabits our daily lives, so does soccer.

Soccer occupies so much space in daily life here.

For some Argentines, times have not been good. We've had social problems, economic problems, deep unemployment. In the middle of all this instability is the love of a team. It can become the only stable thing in an unstable life.

You're a well-known fan of Independiente. Why do you root for them?

I was born in 1967. And during the 1970s, Independiente won several championships. When I was 7, 8, and 9, it was a spectacular team. When I was 10, I lost my father. He was a spectacular father. Through the years, Independiente has always been a bridge between my father and me. The memory of my father and me.

Why is soccer such a strong bond?

We Argentines love our soccer teams and we are very proud of them. It's not important if they win. We don't care if they're terrible. And we want our children to bring this kind of love into their lives too. We feel like we're giving them a gift, when we give them this passion. And in life, there are going to be many reasons that our children — sons in particular — might keep a distance from their fathers, but the love for football will always be a reason to be close.

Your love for Independiente seems to have made it into "Secret in Their Eyes." You made the villain a fan of Racing, Independiente's archival team.

There wasn't a direct reference to soccer like that in my original novel. There was never a scene in a soccer stadium. But when we started to write the screenplay, the director Juan Jose Campanella asked me to incorporate soccer into the screenplay. Campanella doesn't follow soccer, but he liked the joke that I'm a fan of Independiente.

How is writing a screenplay different from writing novels?

It's very different, very difficult. In a novel, you have many means to tell the story: you have descriptions, you can follow characters' thoughts, you can carefully construct the ambiance, the environment where people move. In a script, you have only dialogues and actions. It's very hard to condense the story. As a writer, there are many things you feel are left out that should somehow be there.

Does writing get easier every time?

It gets better over time. There aren't virtuoso writers. There are prodigy painters, and there are prodigy musicians. Like Mozart, for example. He was a master at 5 years old. But a writer needs a lot of experiences, needs to live a lot of things, needs to read a lot of books, needs to change a lot of times. A writer needs a lot of perspectives. A writer cannot be a complete writer at 15 years old.

Secret passions plays such a large part in both the movie and the book. How much of your own experiences with unrequited love did you bring in?

All the stories I write have some little biographical elements. I voluntarily confuse true elements and fictional elements to preserve myself, but at the same time give those stories to the rest of the world.

Tell me about your latest project. You've teamed up again with Campanella on a 3-D animation film about soccer.

It's based on a short story by Roberto Fontanarrosa, a famous humorist and writer here in Argentina. The principal characters are the tiny soccer players of the table game metegol (foosball). That's the title. The movie is going to be for children and it will be Argentina's first movie in 3-D animation. We're just finishing the screenplay and we'll have about two years of production.

What makes this project different from your last collaboration with Campanella?

The biggest difference for me is that it's a movie for children. I think of myself as a writer for adults. The story has to be simple. But there's a risk of making it a bad form of simplicity. Children are children. They're not stupid. And the jokes and the emotions we're dealing with should work for adults too, but simple enough to be enjoyed by the kids.

What's the story?

The soccer players on the foosball table are made of lead, they're 10 centimeters high. They're very much human, but their entire world revolves around foosball, nothing else. The foosball table in which they live is destroyed. For the rest of the movie, they have to recover their friends and companions. They're trying to reconstruct their entire universe. But when you change essential things in your life, you cannot simply return to the past. Once the important things change, you are different. You have grown and you may not return simply to the past. The past is in the past. And you must prepare for a different future life.

In "Secret in Their Eyes," everyone was holding on to the past. What ideas are you trying to get across with "Metegol"?

When you play football, the rest of the world disappears. You have a dream, you have a desire — not just to win, but to do things well with your companions. I never could write about tennis. Or golf. Because I'm only interested in the things we make together, with other human beings. And football is a very democratic sport. We play it with our legs — the least able part of our body. And that makes us all equal on the playing field. And you don't need anything else to play. To play tennis, you need a racket and a net. But to play soccer, you need a rock, a coin, a ball of paper, a ball of socks. It's the most lovely sport in the world. I always use soccer as a metaphor for other essential things in life. Stories about soccer are only interesting only if you can see the real human things that are behind it. Otherwise, it's just soccer.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/argentina/100920/eduardo-sacheri-q-and