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United Passions, Or 'The History Of FIFA Through Sepp Blatter's Eyes'

British actor Tim Roth as FIFA boss Sepp Blatter in the film United Passions.
British actor Tim Roth as FIFA boss Sepp Blatter in the film United Passions.

"You've been betrayed. You could go to prison," a woman warns FIFA's boss.

His defense: "I don't know where the money's gone. I mean, I have my suspicions."

They're not lines from the transcript of any ongoing Swiss or U.S. corruption investigation. They are dialogue from the trailer for United Passions, a film that's set for U.S. release on June 5, in the middle of the biggest corruption scandal ever to have hit world soccer's governing body.

Widening criminal probes have implicated FIFA's senior ranks and appear to have prompted the resignation of Sepp Blatter, the freshly reelected 79-year-old FIFA president played in the film by Academy Award nominee Tim Roth.

The U.S. theatrical release might surprise some, since despite a few references to impersonal, immaterial corruption, it remains largely an exercise in depicting FIFA -- especially under Blatter's leadership -- as a ground-breaking, forward-thinking, and clean organization that has made football the most popular sport in the world.

But London-based journalist Andi Thomas, who writes for American sports network SB Nation, thinks the timing was chosen with the box office in mind.

"This is definitely the right time to release it, because this is the time when people will want to go and see it," Thomas told RFE/RL.

The movie premiered to a cool critical reception at Cannes last year, and it has so far been a financial disaster.

FIFA was heavily criticized at the time for spending a sum on the film that is equal to the annual budget of its Goal program to fund football projects in poorer countries.

All-Star Cast

It cost $27 million -- two-thirds of it from FIFA itself -- and has earned just $200,000 at the box office, according to The Independent and other U.K. media. It was released theatrically only in Serbia before going straight to video in Europe.

And that despite a cast worthy of any Hollywood blockbuster.

Frédéric Auburtin, known for Paris, Je T'Aime, directed the movie. Roth, of Reservoir Dogs fame, plays Blatter, while two of his famous predecessors -- FIFA founder Jules Rimet and Brazilian Joao Havelange, are played by Gerard Depardieu and Sam Neill.

"The...thing to bear in mind is that this really isn't a very good movie," Thomas says. "The script is terrible, the acting is...well , I mean, Tim Roth is a good actor, and Sam Neill is a good actor, and Gerard Depardieu is, you know, a watchable actor. And yet, the film is largely appalling and extremely dull." He describes it as "definitely closer to propaganda."

Roth himself was reportedly wary of the film, having told British media, "I was like, 'Where's all the corruption in the script? Where is all the back-stabbing, the deals?' So it was a tough one. I tried to slide in a sense of it, as much as I could get in there."

WATCH: Trailer For United Passions

Many see the film primarily as an intended vehicle for Blatter that associates the controversial Swiss with the legendary Frenchman Jules Rimet, the founding father of the World Cup.

"It's very much kind of the torch passes from Jules Rimet to Joao Havelange to Sepp Blatter, and at all times there is this great glorious notion that FIFA is there to bring football to the world and FIFA's job is to take it to every corner," Thomas says.

Thomas quips that the film is "the history of FIFA as you would probably get it if Sepp Blatter sat down with you and told you what the history of FIFA was. The corruption is there, but it's either hinted at in a bleak way or it's made very explicit that Sepp Blatter didn't know about it or he's taking steps to address it."

While it might bring in box-office receipts, showing United Passions on American screens could backfire.

"He comes across as somebody desperately spending money to reinforce their images, like those paintings where dictators have had themselves painted on a giant white horse overlooking a triumphant battlefield at great moments in history," Thomas says.

But he concludes, "Presumably at some point soon, other people are going to start telling the complete story of Sepp Blatter's life at FIFA and that's going to be significantly less complimentary for everybody involved."

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