If there are two labels that can all but guarantee box office success in the United States its: “inspirational sports film” and “based on a true story.” There’s no need to tick off a long list of titles that includes evocative names like Miracle, Invincible, and Remember the Titans, but suffice it to say there’s something in our national DNA that connects with these true-to-life narratives of triumph over adversity. Unless, of course, it involves soccer.
And it’s not just the United States — with the glaring exception of Bend it Like Beckham, soccer films just don’t seem to work in the world of international film distribution. Which partially explains why the new Pelé biopic, Pelé: Birth of a Legend, has had such a rough ride of it since it wrapped shooting back in 2013. Over the last few years, we at Remezcla have been giving periodic updates on the project’s development, but between extensive reshoots, a years-long post-production process, and some passes from potential international distributors, Pelé: Birth of a Legend has taken longer to reach audiences than expected.
Many of the problems started when the film missed a target release window that coincided with the 2014 World Cup, losing out on millions of dollars in potential tie-ins and leaving a number of tentative distribution deals in the dustbin as a result. To make matters worse, a shitstorm of FIFA corruption has tainted the purity and public image of o jogo bonito in the minds of millions across the world. Yet thankfully for Pelé (who is an Executive Producer on the project) and the rest of the team behind the film, IFC Films finally picked up the highly anticipated project for theatrical and VOD distribution.
In the run up to the Pelé’s May 6th theatrical premiere, which will be followed by VOD on May 13th, we’ve finally gotten a first look at the film thanks to a two-and-a-half minute trailer from IFC Films. No — don’t bother getting your glasses, there’s no subtitles involved in this one. In fact, the English-language production was made almost exclusively by American talent with legendary documentarians Jeff and Michael Zimbalist holding down writing and co-directing duties.
Yeah, it seems a like a questionable choice given that the story of Pelé is so bound up with the story of Brazil, but at least the Zimbalists have spent their career engaging with Latin American history and culture in seminal docs like Favela Rising and The Two Escobars. Still, we can assume Pelé: Birth of a Legend will follow Hollywood’s formula of: individual + obstacles = triumph, and avoid deeper explorations of all the messy socio-cultural baggage (see: racism, inequality, dictatorship) that’s bound up with Pelé’s story.
The trailer’s classic Hollywood style will surely give you flashbacks to every feel-good, “you can do it if you try” sports film that’s graced international multiplexes over the last few years. The work of cinematographer Matthew Libatique effectively captures the warm, textured palette of innumerable Oscar-winning features from years past while we’re treated to recognizable images of poverty, a motivational father figure, and, of course, triumph. Oh, and then there’s Vincent D’Onofrio struggling nobly through a Brazilian Portuguese accent in the role of Team Brazil coach Vicente Feola. Yet, it accomplishes what every trailer sets out to do: it makes you excited to watch Pelé: Birth of a Legend and might even give you the feels.
This is all to be expected when the producers behind the project are Hollywood execs with CVs spanning Apollo 13 and Friday Night Lights, but remember Pelé himself was intimately involved in the production, and presumably signed off on every decision. Plus, young Brazilian actors like Leonardo Lima Carvalho and Kevin De Paula — both of whom play Pelé at different stages of his life — will have the chance to shine on the world stage alongside titans like D’Onofrio, Seu Jorge, and Rodrigo Santoro. We’ll be first in line to check out Pele’s life story. Who’s with us?
Pelé: Birth of a Legend hits theaters on May 6, 2016.
[h/t: Shadow and Act]