Heleno (review)

Heleno red light Rodrigo Santoro

I’m “biast” (pro): love Rodrigo Santoro

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I don’t know from South American football (that is, soccer), so I’d never heard of Heleno de Freitas, but apparently he was the world’s first sports superstar, shooting to fame in Brazil in the 1940s on the basis of an elegance on the field that startled and delighted fans. You’d be hard-pressed, however, to learn that from this first-ever biopic of the man, which curiously all but avoids the game — except for a few opportunities for Heleno, a hothead with no self-control, to berate and abuse his teammates — in favor of a lurid focus on his other public exploits. These appear to have mostly encompassed being an absolute monster to women, which his celebrity and movie-star looks seem to have allowed him to get away with. Director José Henrique Fonseca spends an inordinate and distasteful amount of time depicting his degradation of wife, mistress, and random hookups, followed by his victims’ subsequent joy in being treated thusly, with no context at all to explain their behavior beyond the “given” that he’s “clearly” so irresistible that they couldn’t help themselves. Yet even the charismatic and handsome Rodrigo Santoro (What to Expect When You’re Expecting) cannot offer us a clue to Heleno’s appeal: he comes across as an enormous jackass, lamenting to himself that he could have been a “great” doctor or lawyer or pianist rather than a great footballer, he’s that comprehensive a genius… a supposition for which we are offered no evidence whatsoever. It’s all meant to be quite, quite tragic, seeing as how the narrative is structured partly as flashbacks from the 1950s Heleno, who has been committed to a sanatorium, his brain gone swiss-cheese from, we’re lead to believe, untreated syphilis. How are we lead to believe this? By the scene in which a doctor, early in his career, alerts Heleno to the fact that he has syphilis and it must be treated. The athlete scoffs at the notion, too macho to require such coddling. The mind boggles. José Henrique Fonseca presents Heleno in creamy black-and-white, aping the look of films of the era… or perhaps he was aiming for a Fellini-esque inscrutability. Who needs to understand — or even empathize — with Great Men such as Heleno? Ours is only to revere him. Well, not me.

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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