The beautiful game became beautiful in Brazil. Of this there is little doubt, but before the majestic winners of the 1958, 1962 and 1970 World Cups took o jogo bonito to the world there were pioneers of the sport who laid the foundations for players like Garrincha, Pelé and Jairzinho to take football to another level.
This film tells the story of Brazilian football in its formative years through the journeys of the two protagonists who give the documentary its name, Charles William Miller and Arthur Friedenreich.
Miller was the man who introduced football to the nation in 1894. He was born to a Scottish railway engineer and a Brazilian mother of British descent in São Paulo but sent away to be educated in Hampshire. During his time in England he fell in love with the game that would play such an important part in his life and the future of the country of his birth.
When he returned to Brazil after ten years in the land of his forebears he took with him two balls and a copy of the Hampshire FA’s rule book. He played a fundamental part in the foundation of a league in Brazil and was one of the early star players in the championship.
Around the time that Miller returned from across the Atlantic Friedenreich was born, also in São Paulo, to a father of German descent and a black teacher. He would go on to cross paths with Miller on the pitch as he was starting his career and Miller finishing his. He played for a slew of clubs in the coffee trading capital, scoring huge numbers of goals, and went on to play for the first Brazilian national team in 1912, getting his teeth kicked in by an Englishman in the process.
Friedenreich went on to play for many years and starred for São Paulo FC in the first seasons of the club’s own glorious history. He eventually hung up his boots in the mid-1930s at over 40 years of age.
The film intertwines the story of the two men beautifully, and provides wonderful detail on their huge contribution to the game. As well as this it manages to put the men in their context, telling of the development of the city of São Paulo from a small town to South America’s business centre, and of the social history of football and how it went from preserve of a wealthy elite to the streets and the favelas.
It also gives an early history of the national team and their hard-fought first international title, the first of a golden legacy. There are some wonderful images, particularly of a game between Friedenreich’s Paulistano and the French national team in the early 20th Century.
Unfortunately, like with many documentaries on the early history of the game, one is left wishing for far more footage showing how the game was played in those early years. This is a social history, and the tale of the influence of two men, rather than a full-on football film. That does not detract from it, however, and the result is a delightful dance through the first chapters of a wonderful saga.
Biographers of the two men provide expertise, as well as an interview with a grandson of Miller and a variety of journalists. The film is shot brilliantly and the researchers have clearly spent many long hours searching through the vaults for fitting footage and photographs, the soundtrack is also well selected and gives life to the stills on the screen.
It is a documentary full of wonderful tales and sub-plots that succeeds in giving an overview of the early development and origins of the game in the país do futebol.
I watched this film in Portuguese but there appears to be an English version coming out at some point and I would certainly recommend viewing it.