Looks back at the extraordinary 12-year period in which Pelé, the only man to win three World Cup titles, went from young superstar in 1958 to national hero in 1970; a radical yet turbulent era in Brazil’s history.
There’s something quite affecting about an older, frail Pelé walking up to his interview seat with the assistance of a walker. His prime now behind him, his legs not so strong as they once were. It’s now a time of reflection and catharsis. Netflix’s documentary takes us right back to the beginnings of a football legend and hero, then, a tour through his eventful life, scraping through his later years which proved a struggle.
It always amazes me how well some filmmakers utilise archival footage. Though in its rough look, the way in which it’s edited with great sound addition and music makes it hit harder. The old footage of football games are cut together with a good sense of storytelling — the loss of 1950 is a small moment in the film but nevertheless a great example of this. It’s also impressive just how much coverage there is of not only these events, but of Pelé himself. Like they were aware that someday, something like this would be made. The late 50s and early 60s are shown as a very energetic and vibrant time in Brazil’s history, with the victory of two World Cup’s, the heightened idolisation of Pelé and a country filled with pride. But, like most documentaries, there must come a downfall; “A different Brazil had arrived.”
Of course, the film focuses on Pelé thus never delving headfirst into the political heights surrounding this time, rather spending time on his eventual marriage with his wife, Rose, and the challenges that came with his newfound fame. While insightful, it’s at this point in the documentary where things begin to drag, feeling a little too strenuous with similar materials prior. I would have liked to see more of the affect Pelé had on the people, and the country’s evolving atmosphere during these times.That said, if it were the other way around and it focused too much on politics, there would be complaints that it isn’t about football, which, let’s be honest, is the focal point of Pelé. It’s to be said that if you lack interest in the scene of football and the World Cup, it will make this documentary a slog, even with its shining moments.
Nicholas and Tryhorn’s portrait of Pelé is a portrait to be sure, but even with the many strokes of painted history, it feels a little underwhelming. Perhaps it really comes down to a general interest, that I simply don’t fit into the criteria set by this film. But that’s not to say that Pelé doesn’t have some likeable charm. There’s plenty of solid imagery from the archival vaults — The way in which the story is structured is brilliant, and the 12-year journey is presented well within its nearly 2 hour run-time. It certainly feels as if you’re watching it for that long, take that as both a pro and a con.
The experience of watching Pelé is difficult to put into words, so it’s best to let the film do the talking. To add, even with my lack of interest in the game, the final 20 minutes or so are quite enjoyable. You can sense Pelé’s feeling of accomplishment, he’s feeling of relief, and the music that accompanies his triumphant third World Cup win drives those feelings home. This documentary shows the rise, fall, and rebirth of not only a player’s spirit, but a country’s.
Pelé is now streaming on Netflix.