It might sound a bit foolish to make a documentary of a soccer match. After all, that’s essentially what a sportscast is. They can range in style from the masterfully directed, multi-camera livecasts of the World Cup to the cable-access VHS replays that have historically accompanied local amateur matches. We’ve all seen it before: one dated handicam placed as high up as humanly possible in order to see the field from end to end. The players emerge as little fuzzy blurs from whose movement we divine more or less where the ball is at any given moment. Sometimes, there’s a date stamp or some running timecode in the top corner. In short, they’re basically unwatchable.
Then Brazilian director Eryk Rocha came along. As the son of the late filmmaker and Cinema Novo pioneer Glauber Rocha, it’s safe to say Eryk is the crown prince of modern Brazilian cinema, though he has kept a remarkably low profile and sought out a style all his own. His latest doc Campo de jogo (Sunday Ball) takes on a championship soccer match between amateur clubs representing Rio’s numerous favelas. Yes, this is where we would typically be confronted with the running timecode and the vague, moving blurs. But Rocha is after all the son of Glauber Rocha, and Campo de jogo is a frenetic, playful, and sublime interpretation of one 90-minute encounter on a dusty field in Rio.
With echoes of the inventive fly-on-the-field camerawork of Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday, Campo de jogo brings us right into the action with a kinetic play of camera angles and focal lengths. The effect is a powerful interpretation of the chaos and energy that permeates the beautiful game in its most raw expression, with lyrical asides that suggest a sort of cinematic ballet. A soundtrack featuring a mashup of classical music and ebullient Afro-Brazilian rhythms adds to Rocha’s playful, ironic tone while also shouting out the experimental works of Cinema Novo and even post-revolutionary Cuban cinema.
It’s probably not easy living in the shadow of one of world cinema’s most transcendent figures, as is the case with Rocha, but by the looks of Campo de jogo he’s taken it all in stride to become one of the most fascinating directors of his generation.
Sunday Ball opens on December 11, 2015 at New York’s Cinema Village for an exclusive engagement.