Film review: ‘KING OTTO’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The rousing and often funny documentary King Otto recounts Greece’s against-all-odds win in the 2004 European Football (ie soccer) Championships and the battle for acceptance by the team’s German coach, Otto Rehhagel.  The film’s title refers to 19th century monarch, King Otto of Greece who was himself a Bavarian import.

Rehhagel was a famously rugged and aggressive player and a rigorously disciplined coach.  It was this focused mindset that attracted the president of the Greek Football Federation, Vassilis Gagatsis, to lure Otto to Greece.  Gagatsis, who has a wonderfully expressive Jay Leno-like mug, makes no bones about the fact that the Greek team were passionate but disorderly unit and needed someone like the iron fisted Rehhagel to keep them on track. Given the Greek people’s obvious passion for the game of football, it may come as a surprise to many that they had been remarkably unsuccessful on the world stage and went into major tournaments as complete underdogs.

It wasn’t an auspicious start for the King though.  The personal qualities that made him attractive to the Greek administration proved problematic as his strict style clashed with the Greek team’s more laid back approach.  It also didn’t help that he didn’t speak Greek.  With the team experiencing early thrashings, the Greek press were baying for Otto’s blood.

The turning point came, though, when the team hired Greek and German speaking assistant coach Thomas Stratos, who acted as Rehhagel’s translator.  Hilariously, Stratos admits that, to avoid a team mutiny, he occasionally fudged the translation of Rehhagel’s less tactful comments about his team’s performance.

The focal point of the film is of course the 2004 European Championships and director Christopher Andre Marks does a fine job building tension and excitement as the rank outsiders Greece stage one miraculous win after another.  Meanwhile, the Greek people’s indifference to their national team and Rehhagel transforms into unbridled ecstasy and the Greek diaspora, including here in Australia, join the joyous celebration.

As well as interview segments with Rehhagel, that appropriately involve some translation issues, we hear from several prominent members of that victorious team, such as captain Theodoros Zakorakis, all of whom have great insights and some amusing anecdotes to share about their imperious coach.

The mark of a good documentary is that it can interest us in a topic about which we don’t normally care.  It’s likely that even non-soccer fans will be caught up in the fervour of Greek team’s march to victory and will delight in the candour and self-deprecating humour of all concerned.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Documentary.

Classification: G.

Director(s): Christopher Andre Marks.

Release date: 27th May 2021.

Running time: 82 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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