Free Press Journal

Movie Review: Pelé: Birth of a Legend – A onetime see movie


Cast: Kevin de Paula, Leonardo Lima Carvalho, Vincent D’Onofrio, Diego Boneta, Colm Meaney, Seu Jorge, Rodrigo Santoro & Pele

Directors: Jeff Zimbalist, Michael Zimbalist

I once saw a documentary on football in which the slow motion sequences lent balletic grace to the footwork of the players. And futbol, as any self-respecting Bengali, Goan and Keralite will tell you, is a beautiful game. A divine game. As we Goans say when the monsoon skies erupt with thunder and lightning, “God is playing football with the angels.”

Rodrigo (the Emperor Xerxes in “300”) Santoro has a cameo and co-production credit in this biopic co-written and directed by Jeff Zimbalist and Michael Zimbalist about an angel in human form, Edson Arantes do Nascimento aka Pelé who has been acclaimed by Brazil as its National Treasure. The IOC named him the athlete of the century. Others have called him the Black Pearl and you will see him, briefly in a scene set in the lounge of a deluxe hotel in Europe.

Pele had come a long way from his poverty-stricken roots in the slums of Sao Paulo. This film charts the meteoric rise of the youth who changed soccer forever, leading his country to its first world Cup victory when he was just 17. (I say, A R Rahman’s wonderful music score should have included the Beatles chartbuster of the same name.)

It starts with Pele trotting out onto the Swedish pitch and then goes back to 1950 when “Dico”(his childhood name) had turned eight and the Brazilian team had lost. His family (and the others around) were so poor, they couldn’t afford shoes. Pele’s father, an ex player himself, used large mangoes to teach his son, the once-derided “ginga” style which has its roots in Brazilian culture and the martial arts. Scrubbing floors and toilets for a living, the boy was discovered by a coach who took him to the capital.

The film shows us how neither physical injury nor racist jibes (Brazil is multi-racial, multi-ethnic) can restrain true genius. The early years were filled with deprivation, humour, tragedy and the affection of friends who encouraged him. The defining moments of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden capture the agility, speed and incredible skills of a passion that took a boy from the backwoods to the pinnacle of fame and glory.

That Pele later dedicated his life to humanitarian causes, is not referenced at all. It is also also a bit jarring to hear little slum kids speak in impeccable American English and I wish the movie had been made in Portuguese with subtitles in English. This is an underwhelming biopic, but one that still merits a watch for the legend who stands for all that is beautiful.