There are two documentaries contained in “Pelé”, the film by David Tryhorn and Ben Nicholas on the phenomenon of Brazilian football. The main one is the star-studded investigation into Pelé’s record-breaking achievements and national adulation. But a second more disappointing story gradually lowers the temperature in the room, once the Brazilian army violently takes power in 1964 and shows a strategic interest in “beautiful sport”.
The filmmakers went through a rich history, from Brazil’s 1950 defeat to Uruguay in the World Cup (when Pelé as a child told her sobbing father he would win her back) to his triumph in the 1970 final. In a recurring interview, the 80-year-old legend is both genuine and diplomatic after decades of worship as “king.” Teammates remain fond, reporters Kibitz, and singer-songwriter Gilberto Gil and former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso offer pop analysis.
But as we hear football repeatedly cited as the lifeblood of Brazil’s sense of self, one interviewee stands out: a former cabinet minister, Antônio Delfim Netto., who signed the infamous “AI-5” law of the dictatorship institutionalizing torture and censorship. The filmmakers go on to suggest that the success of the national team became part of military propaganda, and Pelé shares his own cautious thoughts on the time.
The involvement of the dictatorship takes the pressures of the league game to another level; Pelé later called the 1970 World Cup victory simply a “relief”. I longed to see more of his talents in action; his header in that year’s Italian final is cosmically liberating. But so conventional as a whole, the film feels troubled by the traumas of Pelé’s climax.
Unclassified. In Portuguese, with subtitles Duration: Duration: 1 hour 35 minutes. Watch on Netflix.