Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pele: Birth of a Legend

On a recent flight from Monrovia to Brussels I had the pleasure of spending some of the boring time in a plane by watching the in-flight movie "Pele: Birth of a Legend", about the legendary Pele and his coming from humble backgrounds to win the World Cup in Sweden in 1958.
The movie does not have a deep character development, although it works in creating the great image of Pele for football fans, by tracing his difficult uprising, the challenges he faced as a talented youngster and relations with his family. A nice part of the movie is when the Brazilian players play around in a hotel in Sweden before the 1958 World Cup final (a scene that reminds a bit too much of a Nike commercial though) and then the excellent recreations of the final in Stockholm amid a hostile Swedish crowd and unlikeable Swedish team.

It may work for football fans, but the film's big disappointment is that it only superficially touches on some issues wider than football: Brazilian national identity (in the film, following the defeat in the 1950s World Cup final, Brazilians want to be like Europeans, rather than dwell into their mixed Brazilian identity), as well as racism and class differences (with Mazzola representing the higher classes of Brazil against the young Pele). The film would have been much better if it had managed to put it more into context, and even relate it to today's Brazil, where it seems that Brazil has completely lost its football identity: there is hardly a team further from the "Ginga" style than Brazil's team of the last ten years, in particular represented by Dunga, the most anti-Ginga Brazilian ever.

In footballing terms I was most disappointed that the film simplified some aspects of the 1958 World Cup: Brazil were not considered a decidedly weak side, their group was considered the Group of Death, and Brazil won it in style. It was correct that Pele only entered in the last group match against the USSR, but the big star of that match had been Garrincha's dribbling skills (in all, the film gives much less credit to the legendary Garrincha than he deserves). Disappointingly, the film totally skips Brazil's quarterfinal against Wales, which really made Pele a superstar: with his first and only goal of the match, he put Brazil in the semifinals. I find this strange, as Pele himself has described that goal as the most important in his career. It is true that the semifinal against a magnificent French side was a great victory for Brazil, but one must remember that France played most of the match without the captain and defense icon Robert Jonquet, who had broken his leg in a clash with Vava (Jonquet heroically stayed on the pitch, as substitutions were not allowed), something that greatly facilitated (still) Brazil's splendid victory.
The best part of the film is the final, where Brazil stunned a Swedish side, coached by the Englishman George Raynor, who had no respect for the Brazilians.

As a football fan the movie is ok, a bit disappointing for what it does not show, but very poor as a film describing the deeper relations between football and society.

No comments: