Brazil’s reputation for producing some of the world’s finest football players exists for a reason. Those struggling to remember what that reason is may want to revisit the Brazil 1958 championship win. And they can, in the recent English-language biopic ‘Pelé: Birth of a Legend’.
The movie, from directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist, shows Pelé’s transformation from young boy to national treasure. Unquestionably one of the finest football players to grace the field, Pelé helped Brazil to its first ever World Cup victory in 1958 with an unforgettable header during injury time.
Since then, Pelé played in two more victorious World Cup teams. Today, he remains one of the world’s highest-scoring footballers. ‘Pele: Birth of a Legend’ charts the footballer’s transformation and training from a young boy to Brazilian hero in the span of just eight years.
Set against a backdrop of Brazil’s 1950s, the movie begins with Pelé’s childhood in Bauru. Learning to play football alongside his friends, Pelé was often barefoot. A young Pelé – helped by his father, played by musical icon Seu Jorge – translates capoeira’s ginga into his own unique footballing style.
Tapping into racial tensions
Although the film has received mixed reviews, the movie’s soundtrack and storyline have received praise. Several critics say the Zimbalists’ narrative seeks to show something more than just Pelé’s rise to success.
As children, Pelé and friends came to be known as ‘the shoeless ones’ for their barefoot playing. But this begins as a taunt from Pelé’s antagonist Jose Altafini, a young Italian-Brazilian. Throughout the film Altafini repeatedly expresses a desire to be European, equating bare feet with a lack of finesse.
Nor is he alone in the assumption that Europeans are superior to Brazilians. In the adaptation, the 1958 World Cup team battles with coach Vincent Feola’s assumptions that European-style football is superior to the Brazilian ginga.
With the Zimbalists’ storyline, the 1958 World Cup victory becomes a symbolic moment: both Brazil and Pelé fulfill their homegrown potential.
Check out the trailer for ‘Pelé: Birth of A Legend’ below.