“The story of the soul of a city, of a working-class city, its people and its community”… The first words of “The United Way”, delivered by an Éric Cantona in representation, set the bar very high. Manchester, a unique city and club? British director Mat Hodgson has no doubts about the matter. His documentary is a return to the history of the club, a bit partisan, which will please fans and allow neophytes to set foot in the legend, with in particular the post-war arrival of its legendary coach Matt Busby.
Initially, the film unrolls numerous and skilfully used archive images. All served by an intelligent staging, passing for example to a black screen when it comes to evoking the accident in Munich. An air crash in 1958 that claimed the lives of eight young players from the team, the “Busby Babes”, the greatest tragedy in the history of the team that marks its DNA.
Manchester and Marseille, same fight
In the background, British rock songs follow one another: the Stone Roses, Status Quo and company. The images take an epic turn; the hagiographical temptation is not far off. But “The United Way”, little by little, becomes a documentary on the Cantona myth… With the main interested party as a star guest. Always ready to emerge after a sequence for a commentary on the soul of the club or a gruff aphorism tinged with a Marseille accent. “Eric the King”, filmed on the stage of a theater: a character in the spotlight.
The other club players recount 1992, the arrival of this improbable Frenchman in the Mancunian team. A “Frenchie” with a strong character who drank champagne in pubs while his colleges got drunk on beer… His bloodshed and the preferential treatment he was granted, due to an inexplicable sympathy. He’s not like the others, that one.
Talented player but strong head, in 1995, Cantona throws himself on a supporter of Crystal Palace and strikes him. The Marseillais is suspended for one season. More than twenty years after the incident, the person concerned persists and signs in the documentary: “I would have liked to hit him harder”. Funny regret.
But with him, the club saw its best years, its best victories. Players and coaches, they pass everything to him. We talk about the collar of his turned jacket, David Beckham wonders why Cantona was the only one on whom this misstep made good. The director concludes his documentary shortly after the retirement of “Eric the King”. As if he had taken with him part of the soul of the club.
” The United Way », British documentary by Mat Hodgson (2021), with Éric Cantona, David Beckham… (1h30) on Amazon Prime Video.