was the Derek Jeter of the mid-1970’s. He was the biggest sports star in New
York, playing for the top team in the league. Having the resources and
willingness to sign the best players in the world (exactly like Pelé), the New
York Cosmos were the most popular American professional soccer team, arguably
to this day (but the rest of the NASL league did not fare so well). However,
nobody was showering money on young Edson “Dico” Arantes do Nascimento during
his formative years in Jeff & Michael Zimbalist’s Pelé: Birth of a Legend (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
and his siblings are growing up cash-poor, but rich in spirit. Naturally,
Nascimento and his street urchin friends love nothing more than playing through
the streets and back alleys of Três Corações, much to the chagrin of his
protective mother. She has had enough of football ever since her husband Dondinho’s
career was cut short by a freak accident. Apparently, he stepped in a bear trap
accidentally left on the field or something equally painful. In fact, the
physical damage was not nearly as debilitating as the blow to his confidence.
Recognizing his son’s talents, the elder Nascimento secretly trains him in the
exuberant Brazilian “Ginga” style, in between cleaning toilets at the city
Nascimento will stand up to Jose Altofini, the local wealthy, wannabe Aryan
bully on the field and start to make a name for himself. Sure enough, teenage “Pelé,”
as Altofini dubbed him is duly signed by the Três Corações farm team, playing
his way up to the pro squad and the national team. However, “Ginga” is a dirty
word for coach Vicente Feola, who blames the improvisational style of play for
Brazil’s ignominious showings in the 1950 and 1954 World Cups. He therefore
insists they play a slow, rigid, Euro style of play, leading to considerable
strife within the team.
is rather surprising the Zimbalist documentarian brothers, who previously
helmed The Two Escobars, would take
such a predictable, TV movie approach to Pelé.
Forget subtlety. The poverty is never too grinding for them, nor can the
Europeans ever be snobby enough. Swedish national coach George Raynor, as
played with hissy contempt by Colm Meaney, represents an especially over-the-top
caricature. It is hard to believe anyone would prattle on about breeding and
racial purity at a press conference (especially considering how doggedly
post-war Sweden was trying to sweep its WWII collaboration under the rug).
far, the best thing going for Birth of a
Legend is MPB recording star Seu Jorge, who soulfully anchors the film as
Dondinho. Frankly, neither teenage Kevin de Paula Rosa or adolescent Leonardo
Lima Carvalho have a fraction of his charisma, but they seem to have game. In
fact, the Zimbalist Brothers rather perversely cast Nascimento as a brooding,
joyless kid, who really is not much fun to hang with.
Equally strange, accomplished Bollywood composer
A.R. Rahman was hired to score the film, because apparently producer Brian
Grazer did not realize they have a bit of a musical tradition in Brazil. Rahman
does his best to incorporate Brazilian elements, but this is definitely not his
most memorable work. At least the Brothers Zimbalist do their best to keep it
zipping along. Serviceable but kind of dull, Pelé opens this Friday (5/13) at the IFC Center, but his New York
fans should revisit him and Sylvester Stallone in John Huston’s Victory instead.
Labels: A.R. Rahman, Colm Meaney, Seu Jorge, Sports films