Movie Review: Pelada


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.

Austins Field in Methare Valley, Nairobi - Kenya

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.

Gwendolyn and Luke

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.

Check out their site here and if there is not a screening being shown near you, buy the DVD, watch it and then go out and find a game.

14 responses to this post.

  1. Absolutely fantastic movie. Like Shaun said.. if its in your town please, please see it. I had the great opportunity to see Pelada’s world premiere in Austin, TX, meet the filmmakers, and interview them as well. (You could read it if you really want to (

    Mostly though its a wonderful movie that hopefully shows even the most casual fan what soccer means to people around the world, but also what it means to two Americans that share the same passions for the sport as most of us do as well.

    Bought myself a copy of the DVD a few weeks back and can’t wait to watch it again (perhaps a Free Beer Movement Pelada Watch Party?).


  2. I just bought my two tickets for the Minneapolis showing on June 10th. Can’t wait.


  3. It was so good. I really enjoyed it. Was great to meet you Shaun, glad TSG has someone responsible looking around to run the show:)


  4. Posted by guti on 2010/06/04 at 4:51 PM

    this really was an enjoyable movie. Funny and the soccer was fast paced. I want to go play now. I could have done with less of the “what to do with my life” drama, but still, good enough for me to buy it.


  5. Posted by matthewsf on 2010/06/04 at 4:57 PM

    Great movie.

    I’ve been a little soccered out here before the World Cup and I didn’t know what to expect going in last night.

    I was pleasantly surprised with the documentary. It was surprisingly funny and actually blew me away with some of the locations of the games–I know I’m giving this away, but I was stunned by the game and atmosphere at Bolivian prison.

    I learned just as much about “prisons” and “Bolivia” during that segment of the film than even about the soccer played there.

    The pacing was a little bit uneven, but when you consider that the film had to balance the continued dominance of soccer scenes, then you might actually call the pacing solid.

    If you’ve watched the World Cup commercial with Bono saying it’s “not about this, not about that”–well this film is the opposite it tells you exactly how soccer fits in the culture of where it’s on-location.

    I wrote this a few weeks ago–as a surfer who travels to find ways–I identified with the characters as well.


    If you watched a host of the World Cup


    • When I spoke with the makers one of the things they mentioned, Matthew, is their want to create a kinda soccer version of the surfing movie, “Endless Summer”. It’s a movie I have not seen yet, but now want to.

      I hope as a surfer and a soccer fan that merits a good comparison.


      • Posted by sfshwebb on 2010/06/04 at 7:23 PM

        As someone who has seen Endless Summer (a long time ago), it is a decent comparison from the POV that they go from game to game and not only having a great time doing it but learning about their surroundings as well.


  6. Posted by allison on 2010/06/04 at 6:09 PM

    just wanted to offer a big “thank you” to tsg for inviting me as your guest to watch the movie (free ticket — woo-hoo!)…i too really enjoyed the film, and would recommend it to everyone…it made me want to both travel and play more than i already do — which is a ridiculous amount.

    to show my thanks, perhaps i’ll bake some treats for one of the upcoming world cup viewings…let me know where you guys will be, and i’ll deliver the tastyness!


  7. awesome movie, saw it at the boston film festival a little while back, very very well done


  8. Posted by steve on 2010/06/07 at 11:27 AM

    Fantastic movie. I just ordered 4 copies of the dvd to give as gifts. Saw it with a group and couple of guys traveling from Dublin, Ireland. They were surprised to see a soccer movie here in San Diego. Loved it.


  9. Posted by Hank on 2011/10/03 at 1:21 PM

    This was one of the best documovies I have ever watched. It reminded me of playing as a kid and all I wanted to do is go to a field and play. I’m in my thirty’s now and I miss the game so much. American’s so love their baseball, football and basketball, but if they just picked up a game of soccer, they would know the instant love of the game that warms the majority of the worlds people.


  10. Posted by snazzysnare on 2011/10/10 at 6:24 AM

    I watched this last night great film.


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