A multigenerational family story set against the background of World Cup soccer, “Back to Maracanã” is truly an international project. It’s an Israeli, Brazilian and German film production written in Hebrew, Portuguese and English by Argentinean-born Israeli writer-director Jorge Gurvich. The stars are Israeli and it was mostly shot in and around Rio de Janeiro.
In the movie, which will be screened May 4 at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, Roberto (Asaf Goldstien), a rabid soccer fan, embarks on a trip from Israel to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup with his equally fanatic father and his 12-year-old son, who cares much less about the game. In the course of their sometimes calamitous journey, they come to a new understanding of one another as long-buried secrets are revealed.
The story was inspired by a conversation Gurvich had with his three sons, when he asked them to promise to visit his grave every four years after he dies and tell him how Argentina fared in the World Cup.
“I think I owe my life to soccer,” Gurvich told the Journal. “I grew up in Argentina in the ’70s during the dictatorship. Most of my Jewish friends were involved in the young revolutionary movements, and they were killed. I was playing soccer in the street four hours a day and watching games in the stadiums or on TV. For me, it was an escape path. In a way, soccer saved my life.”
Gurvich had to blend footage shot during the World Cup in Brazil at the Maracanã stadium and Copacabana beach in July 2014 with scenes the actors filmed three years later. Another challenge was having his two lead actors speak languages they didn’t know.
“When I got the script, I didn’t realize it was going to be in Portuguese. At the audition, they hadn’t said a word about it,” Goldstien said. “But I had a really good teacher and spent three months learning [the part.] By the time I got to the set, I knew it backward and forward.”
Goldstien added that he related to the universal fathers-and-sons theme and that Roberto “discovers himself through his kid and his father. I think that anyone can relate to it. We all have these things with our families, whether we like it or not.”
Unlike his character, though, Goldstien isn’t particularly interested in soccer. “I’ll watch the World Cup. But I’m a bigger fan of running and cardio,” he said.
Born in Tel Aviv to a father of Romanian ancestry and a Moroccan mother, Goldstien grew up in a “traditional but not religious” family, though he became a bar mitzvah and often went to shul with his grandfather. He started acting early, later getting formal training in London, where he stayed for seven years. He made his movie debut in the drama “Love Birds” in 2017 and just completed a supporting role in a comedy about the coming of the Messiah.
“I grew up in Argentina in the ’70s during the dictatorship. Most of my Jewish friends were involved in the young revolutionary movements, and they were killed. I was playing soccer in the street four hours a day and watching games in the stadiums or on TV. For me, it was an escape path. In a way, soccer saved my life.”
Gurvich was raised in “strong Jewish environment,” where his father and Russian-Jewish grandmothers spoke to him in Yiddish. “They used to sing lullabies to me in Yiddish about the horrible pogroms,” he said.
Gurvich became interested in filmmaking as an adolescent, skipping school to watch films made by his favorite directors, including Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini and Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. “I was fascinated by the possibility of telling touching human stories through a film,” he said.
He worked primarily as a cinematographer before segueing to producing and directing. His next project is an Argentinean-Jewish comedy that takes place in Israel. Meanwhile, he’s awaiting the theatrical release of “Back to Maracanã,” which is set for July in Germany and October in Israel.
“I am very curious to see how this movie is received within different audiences,” Gurvich said. The director will appear at three upcoming film festival screenings in the United States in May but will not be able to attend the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival.
Goldstien, however, is traveling to L.A. for the first time in 15 years for the festival. He will meet with his new manager for the first time, with an eye toward working on Hollywood projects.
He said he is looking forward to seeing the audience’s reaction to the film. “I hope they’re going to go through a journey” with the characters, he said. “And at the end of the film, to pick up the phone and tell their parents that they love them.”
“Back to Maracanã” screens at 8 p.m. May 4 at Laemmle’s Town Center, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino, followed by a Q&A with Asaf Goldstien.