Review: ‘Pele Forever’

Docu "Pele Forever" tells the story of living sports saint Pele, the Brazilian soccer star who retired in the 1970s after an illustrious career. Helmed by veteran producer Anibal Massaini Neto, hyperbole-prone pic portrays its nimble-footed hero as a cross between Elvis, Muhammad Ali and Jesus. All the same, well-restored archival footage persuasively supports the claim made by others that he was the greatest sportsman of the 20th century. Pic could have strong niche legs theatrically in soccer-loving territories (i.e., everywhere but the U.S.), especially if dubbed, and should score well on ancillary.

Docu “Pele Forever” tells the story of living sports saint Pele, the Brazilian soccer star who retired in the 1970s after an illustrious career. Helmed by veteran producer Anibal Massaini Neto, hyperbole-prone pic portrays its nimble-footed hero as a cross between Elvis, Muhammad Ali and Jesus. All the same, well-restored archival footage persuasively supports the claim made by others that he was the greatest sportsman of the 20th century. Pic could have strong niche legs theatrically in soccer-loving territories (i.e., everywhere but the U.S.), especially if dubbed, and should score well on ancillary.

Conventionally structured pic, whose rhythms feel hacked to accommodate commercial breaks for airplay, kicks off with hymns of praise from former rivals and teammates of Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, aka Pele, born in 1940. The former soccer star appears throughout, surrounded by his current wife and some of his many kids, to comment on highlights of a 21-year career, during which he helped Brazil to win three World Cups. Result is very much an authorized film biography.

Pic features plenty of soccer action, including footage of 300 of the 1,281 goals Pele scored in official games and analyses of each match he played in every World Cup, as well as coverage of the most important matches he played in for his regular team, Santos.

Where footage doesn’t exist, photographs and audio clips fill out the details, while crude CGI reconstructs the goal Pele himself describes as his most beautiful, a magnificent maneuver past several Juventas defenders, which no camera recorded. Latter seg looks a bit like an Xbox sample, but gets the point across.

Attention is duly paid to Pele’s non-sporting activities, including his work for charity, service as Brazil’s minister of sport, and his few assays into film acting, most famously in John Huston’s 1981 “Escape to Victory.” (Huston in a clip recalls that Pele was “the most popular man I ever met.”)

Voiceover narration (read in Portuguese by Fulvio Stefanini at projection caught) includes, but quickly hustles past, juicier personal details, such as Pele’s numerous extramarital affairs and children born out of wedlock.

Entertaining as the tale is, auds less enthusiastic about Pele and soccer in general may find pic outstays its welcome after the regulation 90-minute mark.

Excellent sound design beefs up the tech package, justifying the outdoor airing pic received as out of competition fare in Cannes. Lighting in original footage shot for the pic has a brash TV quality that contributes to the general tacky but tasty vibe.

Pele Forever

Brazil

Production

An Anima Producoes Audiovisuais Ltda., Cinearte Producoes Cinematograficas production, in association with Universal Pictures Intl., United Intl. Pictures. (International sales: Cinearte Prodocoes, Rio de Janeiro.) Produced, directed by Anibal Massaini Neto. Screenplay, Jose Roberto Torero, based on a book by Armando Nogueira.

Crew

Camera (color, DV-to-35mm), Conrado Sanchez; editor, Luis Elias; music, Vincente Salvia, Jorge Ben Jor; art director, Osmar Muradas; sound (Dolby Digital), Gabriela Cunha. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (non-competing), May 16, 2005. Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Pele, Fulvio Stefanini, John Huston.

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