Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist
Brian Grazer, Ivan Orlic
Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist
Kevin de Paula,Vincent D’Onofrio, Rodrigo Santoro, Diego Boneta, Colm Meaney
Are you a soccer fan, specifically a Pelé aficionado?
Then this film’s for you.
There are worse things to do on a sultry, lazy May afternoon other than catching this biopic of the world’s greatest athlete of the 20th century chronicling Pele’s rise from the slums of Sao Paulo to the resurrection of Brazil and their ‘ginga’ style of soccer that makes it the beautiful game it is.
Kevin de Paula and Leonardo Lima Carvalho impress in their respective characterisations of the great man as a teenager and as a boy.
The scenes of the child Pelé with his friends juggling a home-made football through the by-lanes of their crowded havens are a joy.
The action scenes—throughout the movie—delight as the players move to the rhythm of an unheard samba.
A historic symbolism is imbued to ‘ginga’ with his Santos scout Waldemar de Brito describing it as a natural peace-time culmination of the Brazilian martial art Capoeira originally practiced by fugitive slaves in Amazonian interiors.
Pelé is first noticed by Brito when he and his friends take on all comers in a competition where they are the ‘Shoeless Ones’. They lose in the final to their taunters, an upper-class bunch of snotty kids, who incidentally nickname him Pelé. Dico initially reviles the moniker but accepts it when his father (played by Seu Jorge) informs him it’s the sobriquet that the crowd cheers him on with.
Pele’s real name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento—after Thomas Edison— and his familial nickname is ‘Dico’.
Dico loses one of his dear friends in a mudslide when they hide from peanut traders whom he and his pals had earlier robbed to pay for soccer boots for the tourney.
Pele loses all interest in the game and joins his father João Ramos, better known as ‘Dondinho’, in his janitorial duties. Ramos was a footballer in his younger days but failed to make it big.
The crux of the narrative is how Ramos rekindles the flame in his eldest son by teaching him to use firm and soft mangoes while practising balancing tricks using his shoulders, chest and feet. Soon, Pele is back to his ebullient best and it is his mother Dona Celeste who calls in de Brito to sign up Pele for club Santos—aged just 15.
Pele, the boy, promises Ramos to bring home the World Cup to Brazil when the national side loses to Uruguay at home in 1950. The nation is heartbroken and the primeval style of ‘ginga’ is discarded in favour of European- styled discipline and rigor.
(It is a story that would be repeated by the Brazilians. The Brazilians won in 1994 but the side was unpopular back home for its dour, defensive style of play—quite un-Brazilian. They would win once more in 2002, reverting back to the entertaining mode that makes them the world’s favourites.)
Pele moves to Santos but is disillusioned with the unimaginative style of play imposed by the Santos coach. He almost quits the club but is convinced to stay on by de Brito who believes that he has ‘The Ginga Force’ in him.
Once Pele displays his acrobatics and scores a goal for his Youth side, his coach is converted and lets him have his lead. He makes the first side and from there it’s a natural progression to the national side bound for Sweden for the 1958 World Cup.
The rest is history, as they say. Nursing a knee injury, Pele is lacklustre in the group games. The 17-year-old announces his arrival on the big stage scoring a hat-trick in the semis against France and a brace in the finals against Sweden.
There’s a telling scene before the final where Garrincha tells Pele, “In Brazil, I want to be European but now that I’m here, I realize I’m Brazilian and always will be.”
A group of misfits, derided so by Swedish coach George Raynor, gell together marvelously around the Black Pearl to bring home the Jules Rimet trophy.
The entire world embraces the ‘ginga’ style and soccer is never the same again.
Neither is Pele.
- Pele: Birth of a Legend(kottke.org)