Last night Matt and I went to the Victorian Theater ( a lot fancier than it sounds ) to see the documentary Pelada.
The movie follows two former college stars a few years removed from undergrad as they try and figure out what to do with their lives. Luke is being pressured by family to go to law school and Gwendolyn is trying to write a novel. Both frustrated and missing soccer they plan a worldwide whirlwind trip to play pickup footie.
They start off in Brazil and make their way to Argentina and other places in South America. They play with elderly folks, they play in dodgy sections of Buenos Aires and even play in a prison pickup game.
They then make their way to Europe and Africa and then to China and Japan. The film ends with them in the Middle East.
I really enjoyed this documentary. It was a good mix of interviews and stories with some of the people they played against/with, as well as a snapshot of the places they were visiting. Both Luke and Gwendolyn were incredibly friendly and respectful to the people and situations they came across and in turn were treated in similar fashion. There is a lot of humor in the way it was shot and the camera people/directors (Rebekah Fergusson and Ryan White) did a wonderful job of capturing the fun with the intensity of each pick up game.
As someone who has done a lot of traveling and often migrated to any area where there might be pickup, I recognized the nervousness and awkwardness of speaking an unfamiliar language while trying to communicate that you would like to join their game. Most everywhere they went, they were greeted with welcoming arms and curiosity. Both could hold their own, though pretty much everyone playing was surprised and impressed with how good Gwendolyn was.
Just like all situations in life everyone had a story. The film often concentrated on the idea that while things are tough either through poverty, politically or what have you, that everyone enjoys a game of football and that it transcends all. We are often led to believe based on various feel good stories that come out around any major tournament time that football can bring peace, stop wars, end conflict (which they do) etc… and it was refreshing though sadly interesting that their experience in Jerusalem did not follow these feel good paths.
Jerusalem is home to three different religions and close to various violent attacks and conflict from many sides. They play a pick up game where the division between teams is between the Jews and the Arabs and it is very obvious. In the interviews it is clear that they don’t like each other and when a conflict arises over whether a goal is scored, things get heated. It seems from the film that the game just ends after this situation.
The film is careful not to take any sides politically and it does it best stay away from showing anyone in a negative light (apart from a guy in a “Robin Hood” hat who deserved it). Its very respectful of every situation they are in, which mirrors the attitudes of both Luke and Gwendolyn. They’re both wonderful people and their joy and excitement with every game they play is infectious. As mentioned they were former college stars who didn’t make it professionally. Luke has made peace with this (he comes across as one of the most patient and easy going people in the world) and his calm demeanor is mirrored in the way he plays the game. Gwendolyn is having a harder time as she wrestles with her current situation versus her life long dream to be the best.
This is an excellent movie that captures the joy of kicking a ball around with old friends and neighbors whether in competition, for exercise or just something to do. It reminds you that regardless of how tough life can be, that people do find joy and release in a pick up game of football, that the game is important to everyone and in most cases brings people together.