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Estrellas de La Línea (2006)

6.9
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Ratings: 6.9/10 from 104 users  
Reviews: 5 user | 9 critic

A documentary on Guatemalan sex workers who formed a soccer team in 2004 and joined their local five-a-side league. The league's organizer expelled them when their profession was revealed, bringing about a media frenzy.

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Title: Estrellas de La Línea (2006)

Estrellas de La Línea (2006) on IMDb 6.9/10

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A documentary on Guatemalan sex workers who formed a soccer team in 2004 and joined their local five-a-side league. The league's organizer expelled them when their profession was revealed, bringing about a media frenzy.

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12 May 2006 (Spain)  »

Also Known As:

The Railroad All Stars  »

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Media manipulation or heartwarming, responsible, social documentary making?
30 July 2006 | by (Scotland, United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

Docu-dramas like human interest stories, and the suffering individuals that are their main fare can easily be sucked in and further exploited. The Railroad Allstars are a group of sex-workers in Guatemala - the lowest of the low, working for around $2 a time. They are regularly harassed, attacked and murdered with impunity, so the idea of forming a football team to draw attention to their plight has got to be better. The film is full of heart-warming moments, shows the women's perseverance in the face of prejudice and ridicule, and includes some nice shots of Mayan ruins. And it's unusual.

The movie glosses over where the idea came from - and the film backers seem the more likely suspects - but this is not necessarily worrying if they achieve some good. The idea attracts attention, and these particular women don't have pimps, so reprisals seem unlikely. The worst scenario is perhaps hopes raised and then dashed.

Guatemala City has a ghetto area next to the railroad cutting through the town. Here they ply their trade. Many of them are coarsely-spoken and built more like rugby players than athletic football stars, but one or two are well-spoken, and have some education and refinement, even if they are living in horrific squalor. Textbook tales of childhood abuse, violence from men, or rape are told with tears streaming down their faces. "Before we are prostitutes we are women and mothers," says one. We meet some of their children who mostly seem well enough cared for and carrying no shame of their mother's way of earning their keep and school fees. Seeing the women through the eyes of those that care about them (and for whom they care) helps to humanise them so we see the person inside, rather than an object of scorn and pity, opening her legs for anyone who pays. Overall, they seem a more decent bunch than the fire-and-brimstone preacher who rants at the top of his voice and adds to their feelings of worthlessness.

Servitude to appearances is further challenged when we meet Marina, a one-eyed old woman and ex-prostitute. The camera lingers on her twisted face and it is hard not to look away, especially when we are subjected to her way of talking that belies a long life in the gutter. We feel some pity when we learn her home has been washed away more than once, yet it is not compassion she craves but respect. Marina sells condoms at seven cents each, but soon accompanies the football team on their travels while her faithful partner stays in the ghetto.

Their first match is against a high-school team. The Allstars not only lose the game, but organisers are aghast when they find out they are prostitutes. (I did wonder about them playing teenagers, but it seems the set up is one where anyone can ask to play.) The reaction is disproportionate however, with demands that benches are hosed down and turf changed - in case people catch AIDS from the players' sweat or scraped knees.

A travel company sponsors the Allstars for a tour, and the next opponents are a team of women police officers, followed by girls from a go-go bar. Everywhere the Railroad Allstars get well thrashed - they look out of shape and, for all the film's hype, don't seem to be taking training very seriously. After several games they are not very good at football either.

A change of scenery shows the girls in a nice hotel during an away match, and then taking in the sights of ancient Mayan ruins. This is a side of their own country they have never seen, like a dream come true. Whatever the sponsoring travel company's motives, they have made good on their promise to show the Allstars some of the beauty of Guatemala. A note of humour creeps in as the women quiz the tour guide on ancient Mayan sex practices (for all it's levity, they are probably genuinely interested in whether there were Mayan prostitutes whose rights were better protected.) Are we to be appalled at how they bring the discussion down to the lowest common denominator? Or shocked at how badly their (modern) world compares with the ancients'? Or just laugh at the sex jokes? Different reactions are almost as interesting as the film itself.

Eventually public pressure mounts against the Allstars. They want to accept a challenge from a team of El Salvador sex workers but their sponsorship runs out. Even though they don't win very often, they are experiencing respect from the teams they play - a new emotion and victory for them. They raffle their belongings to get the money.

We even see the one-eyed Marina in a new light. When she returns and finds her devoted husband has rebuilt their shack she becomes ecstatic, as if blessed by God; but then just as we start to like her, she explains that she's an alcoholic.

Railroad Allstars is one of those festival oddities that will attract TV distributors around the world. It probably hasn't made any impact on the poverty, discrimination and violence against the women concerned, but it gave them the glimpse of a different life. Could the film perhaps also be used to inform social work and government efforts to ensure progress and success, like that of the Allstars, is not so sadly short-lived? Watch this colourful film and make up your own mind.


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