‘Pelé’ Review: A National Treasure


“Pelé” includes two documentaries, David Tryhorn and Ben Nicholas’ film about the phenomenon of Brazilian football. The most important is the starry overview of Pelé’s record performances and national recognition. But a second, sobering story lowers the temperature in the room steadily as soon as the Brazilian military forcibly takes power in 1964 and shows a strategic interest in “the beautiful sport”.

The filmmakers have a long history, from Brazil losing to Uruguay at the World Cup in 1950 (when Pelé told his sobbing father as a boy that he would win her back) to their triumph in the 1970 final. In a recurring seated interview, that is now 80-year-old legend after decades of being worshiped as a “king”, both real and diplomatic. Teammates, journalists Kibitz, and singer-songwriter Gilberto Gil and former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso continue to offer pop analysis.

However, when we hear that football is repeatedly used as a vital force for Brazilian self-confidence, one respondent stands out: a matter-of-fact former cabinet minister, Antônio Delfim Netto, who signed the dictatorship’s infamous “AI-5” law that institutionalized torture and censorship. The filmmakers go on to suggest that the national team’s success became part of military propaganda, and Pelé shares his own cautious thoughts about the era.

The involvement of the dictatorship takes the pressure of the championship game to another level. Pelé simply calls the World Cup victory in 1970 a “relief”. I longed to see more of his talents in action; His headed goal in this year’s final in Italy feels cosmically liberating. But however conventional the film is, the film is troubled by the trauma of Pele’s heyday.

Not rated. In Portuguese with subtitles Running time: Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. Watch on Netflix.



Robert Dunfee