I Am Zlatan review – compelling insight into the making of a football superstar

Jens Sjögren’s sympathetic film avoids the cliched sport movie formula of triumph over adversity by focusing on what happens off the pitch

That’s Zlatan as in Zlatan Ibrahimović, the superstar Swedish striker whose troubled childhood in a tough working-class neighbourhood of Malmö is dramatised here. The cocky underprivileged kid saved from (possibly) a life of crime by football; it sounds like the cheesiest sports movie ever. And yet director Jens Sjögren, more interested in what happens off the pitch, dodges the dull cliches. His sympathetic, realist film is a compelling watch.

The film is based on Ibrahimović’s autobiography, co-authored with the Swedish writer David Lagercrantz. Dominic Andersson Bajraktati plays 11-year-old Zlatan, who is disruptive in school and bad-tempered on the pitch. What soon becomes clear is that all this behaviour is the communication of a kid who feels inadequate, alone and often hungry. He’s playing football with middle-class boys who wear the right football boots, their dads cheering from the sidelines. Zlatan’s parents divorced when he was little. His dad, Bosnian caretaker Šefik (Cedomir Glisovic), is a brooder who drinks heavily, and his exhausted mum Jurka (Merima Dizdarevic) is emotionally unavailable; both characters are written with real emotional generosity.

Granit Rushiti is Zlatan aged 17 during a crucial moment when he might make the Malmö first team or quit football altogether. Rushiti also plays Zlatan a few years on, in his early 20s, now a promising young striker for Ajax – where racist news reporting refers to him as a “lazy immigrant”. There are some insightful insider-y scenes as his agent negotiates a big-time deal with Juventus.

What works best is that I Am Zlatan doesn’t push the triumph-over-adversity sports-movie formula. What keeps Ibrahimović on the straight and narrow? Survival instinct? His passion and God-given talent? The film entertains a darker possibility that he channelled his anger, that football success meant revenge against those who wrote him off.

• I Am Zlatan is released on 3 June in cinemas and on 20 June on digital platforms.


Cath Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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