Original Title: Heleno
Director: José Henrique Fonseca
Opening the Group E the most victorious national team in the FIFA World Cup history, Brazil.
Also known as Seleção (meaning “selection” same as Argentina’s Selección), the Brazilian team is the only one qualified to all World Cups, winning five times.
Brazil hosted the 1950 World Cup and lost the title to Uruguay. The Maracanaço (Maracanazo), as I already commented in the Uruguay post, was considered a national tragedy in Brazil.
The first three in 1958, 1962 and 1970 had the presence of Pelé, regarded by most as the best football player of all time, The GOAT, as some people say. Beside him, many other great, legendary players helped the first National Team to win three WC trophies.
In 1982, Brazil had one of the best squads in history, inspired many of the future generations. Players like Zico, Sócrates, and Falcão formed a very skilled squad that unfortunately didn’t win the tournament.
There is a saying in Brazil about that “Zico don’t have a World Cup, too bad for the World Cup”, or something like that.
Brazil found themselves with the title again in 1994 with Romário and Bebeto forming a deadly front, with five and three goals respectively. A World Cup that is also known for being the first of a young Ronaldo.
2002 was the year of the fifth and last Brazilian title. With Cafú as the captain and the trio of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Rivaldo, they reached the finals against a powerful Germany and won the title in a 2-1 match.
Brazil hosted another World Cup 64 years after the Maracanazo, and after barely reaching the semifinals against Germany, the 7-1 happened, being the largest margin of a win in a semi-final and the worst defeat by a host country.
The qualifying for the Russia World Cup for Brazil was at risk until they signed Tite, regarded, at the time, as the best coach in the Brazilian club-level tournaments.
Tite fixed the team full of talent, giving them a method and philosophy of work, making Brazil one of the title contenders once again.
The obvious choice for a Brazilian movie would probably be City of God, a movie constantly among “Best movies” lists, but I decided to go with something related to football instead.
Since the beginning of this FIFA World Cup Special Series, it will be the first time I review a movie based on a real story, so I also give a little bit of a context before talking about the movie itself.
Heleno de Freitas was born on 12 February 1920 in São João Nepomuceno, state of Minas Gerais. Heleno was of a wealthy origin, graduated as a lawyer, known for being ill-tempered and bohemian.
Most of his career as a footballer was with Botafogo de Futebol e Regatas (Botafogo Football and Rowing), playing 235 matches and scoring 209 goals. He also played for Boca Junior, Vasco, Junior Barranquilla, and very shortly Santos and América-RJ.
He was the greatest Botafogo idol before Garrincha.
At the international level, he played for Brazil from 1944 to 1948, scoring 19 goals in 18 matches. Never played a World Cup because there wasn’t one during his time with the Seleção.
His health was being largely affected by late-stage, untreated Syphilis, an STD that causes neurological problems, personality changes, dementia and many others (source).
As syphilis cause many mental issues, in 1953 he was hospitalized in an asylum in Barbacena, a city known as “The city of Insane”. He remained there until his death in 1959.
Before the Brazilian psychiatric reform, the asylums were a place to dumb the “undesirable” people. There the patients were submitted to all kinds of inhumane treatments and even torture and after their death, the corpses were clandestinely sold for universities.
Barbacena was the center of these atrocities, the main city of asylums. This part of Brazil’s psychiatric history is known today as “The Brazilian Holocaust”.
The 2011 film directed by José Henrique Fonseca is more about the personal life of Heleno de Freitas than his football career. Much of his abuse of drugs and alcohol, his affairs, mental deterioration, conflicts and so on.
I really liked the movie, but I recognize I might have been a little biased in forming an opinion about it. It’s a movie beautifully shot, about football and insanity, so it’s a lot in my one of my niches.
Football is my favorite sport in adult life. The theme of mental health and how it’s portrayed in the various works on the screen or on paper.
To portray Heleno, one of the best Brazilian actors of his time, Rodrigo Santoro, and as usual, he does an exceptional work as the bohemian footballer, from a handsome charming man to a deteriorated moribund.
Rodrigo Santoro is a great actor who can play almost any role he is given, but sadly enough, every single time he got a role in a Hollywood movie either the movie is absolute garbage or he has very little screen time.
Heleno’s wife, Ilma, become Silvia portrayed by the gorgeous Alinne Moraes, also doing a great job with the role.
The aspect I like the most about the film is the stylistic choices. The black and white with beautiful lighting, the wide shots with an ancient tone, like really is something from the 40’s.
It is a very sad movie, and there is no way around it because the story of the man itself had a very melancholic ending. We see a weak, skinny man, playing ball with the asylum patients, and we can see the contrast with that vigorous figure that played for Botafogo.
We have a romanticized image of the idols and legends, especially in old cases. Anyone that saw Heleno play must be very old today, for the rest of us, we only know him by his legend and in my opinion, the movie made justice to this legend, not hiding his flaws.
Our legends were human. Heleno was human and flawed, like George Best, Garrincha, Maradona, and many others, yet, that doesn’t belittle what they were in the pitch.
This sad and beautiful movie will have 8 Moons from me.