Pelada & the Wonder of the Game

By | January 27, 2018

The film Pelada started as a student project at Duke University, when Gwendolyn Oxenham, Ryan White, and Rebekah Fergusson — along with Luke Boughen, who was a student at Notre Dame — got funding from CDS and the Provost’s office to start travelling around the world looking for, and filming, pick-up games. The result is a beautiful ode to the universality and power of the game.

The New York Times offered this review of the movie when it was released in 2010.

This week we are watching the film in Soccer Politics at Duke University, and reading Edouardo Galeano’s Soccer in Sun & Shadow.

Students, as we did with the Zidane film & Bromberger, please offer comments on a connection you see between moments captured in the film and moments captured in Galeano’s prose. What parts of Pelada do you think most powerfully capture what makes soccer such a powerful form of connection and communication, and what insights does Galeano offer that help you better understand those moments in the film?

Category: Films

About Laurent Dubois

I am Professor of Romance Studies and History and the Director of the Forum for Scholars & Publics at Duke University. I founded the Soccer Politics blog in 2009 as part of a course on "World Cup and World Politics" taught at Duke University. I'm currently teaching the course under the title "Soccer Politics" here at Duke. My books include Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France (University of California Press, 2010) and The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer (Basic Books, 2018)

24 thoughts on “Pelada & the Wonder of the Game

  1. Matthew Eads

    Pelada paints the “sun” aspect of Galeano’s book much more than the “shadow” aspect. It shows the importance soccer has in improvised communities. It helps people all across the world forget for a moment their hardships and enjoy the aspect of life. For people who are much less fortunate than those in America, it reminded me of the quote Galeano uses from Dorothee Sölle, that to explain happiness to a child she wouldn’t use words, she would “toss him a ball and let him play.” This idea is shown through the film Pelada, and extends the notion beyond just children, but everyone in a community. These people don’t care about the marketing and television contracts that are ruining the game for Galeano, they just care about the enjoyment the game brings them. While the popularity of the game can be attributed to people desiring to become a soccer star or idol, Pelada shows it’s more than anything about pure enjoyment of the game. Following their game in Rio, while drinking beer with their fellow athletes, the players rehash memories from the game. This is reminiscent of Galeano’s poetic description of marvelous goals in the first half of the book. These goals are cherished and infallible memories for not Galeano, but the all of the soccer world. Soccer is a tool to provide lasting and meaningful moments for those who love it. While cynics will argue it is used as a tool to trick the poor into forgetting their woes, or as an export made to be package and sold, Pelada shows it is much more than that. In these communities, soccer is still in the sun, and still a medium for expression and happiness. The commercial aspect of modern soccer is important as these towns, villages, states and country are able to rally around their shared loved a homeland and shared love of a game. The fond memories Galeano had as a youth, and has increasing difficulty in formulating as the game evolves, are still being created around the globe. There is undoubted corruption in the world of soccer, but Pelada shows that the love of the game is still as strong as ever and beauty still lives on in soccer.

  2. Faris

    Pelada was a striking film about the true beauty of soccer. The main themes that stood out the most to me in this film were those of the universality of the language of soccer, the unifying nature of the game, and its cultural/political significance. It’s worth noting that for me, this movie resonated with me on a personal level. I grew up in Saudi Arabia, where pick-up soccer games were extremely common. On a typical evening after school, I would usually just go into the street outside my house and stumble upon a pick-up game, where we would often make-do with improvised goals from pieces of trash we’d find, or even our own shoes.

    Through their travels, Gwendolyn and Luke illustrate a key lesson that could be learned from each country. From their travels in Brazil, what struck me the most was the fact that even in extreme poverty, people could play soccer (often in the rubble and with goals made of random objects) and on occasion, rise above their hardships and pursue stardom as professional footballers. This case was specifically shown to us when they visit a particularly underdeveloped region of Rio (where the policeman told them to continue at their own risk) and play with some of the locals. When interviewed, one of the locals mentioned that Carlos Tevez was his hero because “he’s one of us. He comes from a place like this.” This is also a key aspect that struck me in Bromberger’s article, where he argued that one of the most beautiful aspects of soccer lies in the ability to allow one to rise above the arbitrary social class that they were born into, and become heroes to millions. This concept was shown again in Brazil with the girl who was known as Ronaldinha. Though she grew up in relative poverty, she was still able to overcome social difficulties through her pure skill and determination, and get drafted to Brazil’s youth team.

    Another awakening moment in the film was when Gwendolyn and Luke travelled to Jerusalem, where Palestinians and Israelis were able to put their differences aside and come together in a game of soccer. Yes, there were times when both teams argued over a goal decision, but I think that the key idea is that political differences are overshadowed by the unifying nature of the game. However, Galeano’s sketch “The Opiate of the People?” offers us a different perspective. Perhaps it’s not the beauty of the game that allows us to put differences aside and enjoy a game between us and our political rivals, but rather the ugliness of it. Galeano argues that “[a]nimal instinct overtakes human reason, ignorance crushes culture, and the riffraff get what they want.” The fact that soccer could allow us to forget about our political differences means that our innate desire to play could trump our political motives, which is definitely an eye-opening way of thinking about the significance of soccer on a geo-political scale.

  3. Lucas Carter

    Soccer is a game of community. It is just as much about the friendships, rivalries, and traditions surrounding the sport as it is about the actual play itself. This theme of soccer as a means of community was strongly present throughout both Pelada, and Galeano’s “Soccer in Sun and Shadow”, as both pieces demonstrate that the sport’s power to bring people together is really what makes it so beloved.
    The first scene in Pelada that properly demonstrates the sport’s ability to build a neighborhood is the scene with the old men playing pickup games in Rio. Although they are all past their athletic primes, they would all happily tell you of how important it is to never stop playing, as the soccer offers both exercise and a means to stay in touch with their old friends. Their games are always followed by a “third half” consisting of drinking cerveza and telling stories about the game, indicating that the communal aspect of the match is so important to them that they consider hanging out afterwards to be an official period of the game. However, soccer building society is not confined to Brazil. As Gwen and Ryan travel the world, numerous examples of soccer building society are immediately apparent. I thought the most powerful story in the film was of Austin’s field, a dirt pitch located in the slums of Nairobi. The people who played there had almost nothing to their names, but the children would flock to it every day because of a man named Austin who would coach them. The field was so beloved to the people of the community that it became the center of their society, with every child growing up playing on Austin’s field. Gwen and Ryan artfully demonstrate how soccer is much more than a game, but rather a unifying force behind communities of all different socioeconomic levels.
    Although Pelada shows literal real-world examples of how soccer unifies communities, Galeano also demonstrates how the cherished sport can bring people together. In his piece “The Fan”, Galeano depicts a soccer fanatic as an eager and youthful person who darts out of their house every week to watch their team play. To the fan, the match is just as much about the game being played on the field as it is about the cheering, chanting, and unifying screaming that the spectators partake in all afternoon. The fan rarely says that “the team” plays, but rather he says that “we” play. The ability of soccer to integrate fans into the game to such an extent that they consider themselves part of the team is nothing short of incredible.

  4. Luke Berndt

    I really enjoyed Pelada as it gave a much more relatable feel to the game than a movie that focuses on a hero. Gwendolyn and Luke’s trip around the world reminded me of my neighborhood growing up where there were always kids playing a sport in someone’s backyard regardless of the time or weather. Other kids walking around the neighborhood would occasionally stop us and ask to join and we would not hesitate to include them. Because of this, I was not surprised by everyone’s willingness to allow Gwendolyn and Luke to step into a game and play. Additionally, aside from the Jewish and Muslim players who clearly were not brought together by the “beautiful game”, everyone seemed to make a connection and be very welcoming to Luke and Gwendolyn because they had played a game of soccer with them. The images that stick out the most in my mind are that of the prison guard walking with his arm around Luke and the four or five kids who give Luke and Gwendolyn an escort out of the bad part of Buenos Aires. To me this shows how easy it is to create a bond with someone you play soccer even if you have never met them and it is just one simple game. While the game in Jerusalem was quite different because of how tense the world was outside of the field, every other game showed how soccer could bring people together regardless of their backgrounds.
    I think that giving Luke and Gwendolyn’s backgrounds really added to the film, as it gave them a sort of heartbreak to deal with going into the trip. A lot of the places they were playing in were very low income, yet they were able to see people playing and enjoying their lives because of a game that they all loved. While Luke and Gwendolyn both had their own hardships going in, I am sure that the trip gave them a lot of perspective and was very humbling for them.
    In a similar vein to Soccer in Sun and Shadow, the film allowed us to see the game in a very different light. Every video shown of the game was an excerpt and there was never a full game shown. Except for the tournament in Kenya, there was also never a score told to viewers. I think this better shows the beauty of the game, rather than an end result. For these people, it is very important for them to win and they are concerned with the final score, but they are still playing for the love of the game. This is unique to soccer as a whole as a lot of people are more concerned with how the game is played, rather than the outcome of the game. Luke and Gwendolyn’s reactions to every game also showed how they were in it much more for the love of the game rather than to prove something to someone or to win. They never looked upset after a game and were always more moved by the actual experience rather than the result.

  5. Noor Tasnim

    As an avid traveler who has seen pick up games of soccer in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, I appreciate the perspective “Pelada” provides on soccer matches throughout the world. Most of the film portrays soccer as a versatile sport that can be played anywhere. Interestingly, most of the film looks at matches played in lower socioeconomic regions, probably to highlight soccer’s versatility. A scene that particularly stood out to me was when Luke and Gwendolyn participate in a pick up game in Villa 31 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Although the possible dangers of playing in the crime-infested area made this game more exhilarating, it was one of the few scenes in which a local “player” talks about the rags to riches story associated with soccer. Likewise, Eduardo Galeano examines a similar concept in his passage, “An Export Industry,” in “Soccer in Sun and Shadow.”

    One of the locals in Villa 31 mentions the inspirational story of Carlos Tevez, a famous striker from Buenos Aires who initially played for the most successful club in Argentina, Boca Juniors, and eventually went on to play in Europe (Manchester United, Manchester City, Juventus, etc.). Similarly, Galeano discusses how players move up in the world. They play well in their hometown and then play professionally in a bigger city, only to get scouted by larger clubs and eventually achieve their dreams of playing in Europe, similar to Tevez. However, this motif is prevalent throughout the film. Ronaldinha, who also comes from a lower SES area and is skillful in soccer, expresses her dream of wanting to play for Brazil’s National Women’s Team.

    Galeano makes a valid point when he claims that many countries outside of Europe are “export industries,” funneling their top players to Europe while their domestic soccer market suffers. It’s unfortunate how many of the players that Gwendolyn and Luke interact with are unable to pursue their dreams of playing soccer because the opportunity is not there if there is no money. However, most people in Europe have access to soccer from an early age because of a prospering market and the amount of money put into the industry.

    It was comforting to see people of diverse backgrounds still be able to enjoy the game. However, I wish there were more opportunities, especially for the children, to be able to pursue their dreams of becoming a soccer star.

  6. David Duquette

    Pelada was such an enjoyable film to watch as someone who has played soccer his whole entire life. I constantly found myself jealous of Gwendolyn and Luke, wishing that either I could travel the world in the name of soccer, or participate in a pickup game that had as much cultural significance as the ones they took part in. A few parts of the film resonated the most with me, and showed how unique and unifying the sport of soccer is. The first was when the couple visited Brazil and met the young girl Ronaldinha. To me, Ronaldinha represented the magic of soccer that you can’t plan for or buy. She learned how to play just from playing in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, not from some organized league or an intense practice schedule, yet she was still an incredible player to watch. So many people try to regiment the game for children, training them from a young age to become great players as if they were products in a factory line. But for many, the creativity and artistic side of the game comes much easier in an uncontrolled environment, and I think these people are the ones that bring the truly beautiful and entertaining aspects of the sport to the forefront. The other part of the film that was truly incredible to watch was the game that Gwendolyn played in Tehran. Upon arriving to Tehran, Gwendolyn was sidelined because of the laws against women playing sports in Iran. This was probably something that she had never experienced before, and it hurt me to see her have to watch on the sidelines while the men played. She did eventually get to play though, with both men and females. The interviews with the Iranian men after her game with them was particularly touching, and showed that despite vast cultural and political differences, soccer is something that can bring people together. It didn’t matter that Gwendolyn was a woman or that her and Luke were American; they were able to earn the respect of the Iranians through the game of soccer.

    Each of these themes seem to touch on a lot of the ideas that Galeano speaks about in his book, “Soccer in Sun and Shadow.” Throughout the book, Galeano criticizes the businessmen who have come to dominate the professional game for their industrious attitudes towards the sport. In his opening sketch he claims, “When the sport became an industry, the beauty that blossoms for the joy of play got torn out by its very roots.” To me, Galeano would take great pride in players like Ronaldinha or the street freestyler from Shanghai, whose talents were forged outside of the industrial side of soccer, and who play the game for joy and not for money or fame. Galeano also describes the hypnotic nature of soccer, and how it can make people forget about the world around them while in play in the sketch, “The Opiate of the Masses?” To me, the matches played in Tehran and Jerusalem represented this aspect perfectly. In each there were great political reasons for those on the pitch to despise each other, yet the game brought the opposing sides together, if only for a time. Americans and Iranians played together while Jewish people and Arabs played together. It didn’t matter that the US is and has been at odds with Iran on the international stage, and the constant struggle for the holy land in Israel didn’t matter either, and it’s all because a ball was placed at the feet of those in conflict causing them to forget about the issues and conflicts that surround them outside the field of play. Reading Galeano and watching Pelada have been amazingly enriching experiences, and I hope to one day be able to experience the game in the ways that these individuals have.

  7. Ben Gottschalk

    Pelada provides those afforded the opportunity to watch the masterpiece with more than a glimpse of both how global soccer is, and how every person who interacts with the game views the sport so differently. Whether it is on a field in Israel, prisons in Bolivia, the streets of China, the plains of Africa, or the other various locations Pelada takes it, the game is played and viewed with a myriad of intricacies and interpretations. Moreover, the film illustrates how soccer’s bounds are not limited to a field or any sort of surface. They discuss soccer in a living room over drinks, in their hotel rooms, in the streets, on fields – soccer can be debated, theorized, or enjoyed just about anywhere – which is what it makes it so special and unique. Throughout the film’s global exploration of soccer, we can see how many various understandings and versions there are of the game. These discoveries in the film, and the many ways that people play and comprehend soccer, allow me to tie in Galeano’s book. Galeano presents an account of soccer in a way that I had never seen before. The game of soccer is filled with many complexities, but at the same time, it can be simplified and understood by singular moments. The way a goal can be viewed or a referee’s decision can be understood, celebrated, or ridiculed with a variety of opinions. Galeano provides the reader with a series of instances that have influenced our thoughts on soccer while also shaping the way the game is viewed today. Specifically, Pelada shows how people use soccer as an escape – as a way of forgetting about their status in the world or the difficult backgrounds or settings they endure. This is similarly presented in Galeano as he highlights the way soccer could be used to both inspire and symbolize revolution and war, but also serve as a respite or release from the anxiety and complications that arise from these conflicts.

    The scene or experience that struck me most about Pelada was when they travel to Israel. Last semester, I took an Israel Palestine class that focused on comparing narratives and perspectives that help to explain the conflict. The struggle between the two groups (or states, or peoples) is a complicated one and like the game of soccer, is understood in diverse ways by people who have personally encountered the violence and the never-ending tussle and by those who can only view it from afar through news and media. Yet just as a game of soccer and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can have many complexities, they can also be simplified or neglected, in a good way, if the opportunity presents itself. So, when the film’s quartet descended on a pitch in Jerusalem – a city that many would argue that would is the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian problem – a heated matchup was expected to ensue, even more so considering that a Palestinian had carried out a terrorist attack on several Israelis days earlier. However, the game provided something much different: a place to play the beautiful game without the intensity or the hostility of the political issues that surrounded the participants. Sure, the Israelis resented the Palestinians and the Palestinians resented the Israelis, but the game provided an outlet and a sense of removal from the aggressions that each contestant felt. With the ball in play, politics and strife were drowned out and the heat of competition came to the forefront. That’s the beauty of soccer and an element that is portrayed exquisitely in both Pelada and Galeano’s book.

  8. Philemon Kiptoo

    Being a huge fan of pick up soccer myself, I really enjoyed watching the Pelada Film. By sharing captivating stories of ordinary people playing soccer worldwide, Gwendolyn Oxenham and Ryan White reveal to us another side of the game that we never see on TV screens; matches played on pedestrian fields using simple equipment. I picked up two major themes from the film; the role of soccer in society and the fate of seeking to be a professional soccer player.

    In almost every story shared in the film, soccer is a source of joy; playing a match makes one to temporarily suspend their religious, political or ethnic identities. Indeed, soccer transcends even our most volatile conflicts. The story of the filmmakers in Jerusalem, one of the most troubled cities on earth, is a touching one. Seeing sides that are supposedly in the midst of the biggest conflict of our era come down to a small court in the middle of a city they are fighting over for, and enjoy a soccer match is one of the things that makes this game a strong force. In his book Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Eduardo Galeano also shares the story of German and British soldiers who managed to turn a battlefield into a playing field during WWI, at least until screaming officers reminded them that they were supposed to hate each other.

    By sharing their personal stories, Gwendolyn Oxenham and Ryan White help us understand the real challenges that players face in the journey to being professionals. We live in a society that worships those who make it to the mountaintop and assumes that those were the only ones who tried to climb in the first place. The majority of those who tried, and even came close to success are often never recognized. The story of the filmmakers’ failed attempt to be professional players makes us wonder how many unsung heroes are out there. Gwendolyn herself subtly accepts that she does not like playing as she used to. Soccer is no longer a great source of joy for her, but rather a reminder that she didn’t make it. However, as she travels around the world, she discovers pickup soccer. Whether professional or not, playing in flashy stadiums or in dusty streets, millions of people played soccer for fun, with no obligation whatsoever; the kind of soccer that Galeano seems to keep praising in his book – a game free from corporate manipulation and inhuman treatment of its players.

    Being a Kenyan and Nairobi resident (for most part), I also liked the scene in the film taken in Mathare slum. In a fast growing city with a rising youth population, soccer has really picked up in Nairobi over the recent years. Most young people from slums like Mathare, trapped in harsh economic conditions, have turned to soccer for fun, and for some, to make a living. One extra detail that I think the filmmakers ought to point out is the fact that Mathare United, a prolific team in the Kenya Premier League, was founded partly as a result of young people trying to find purpose in impoverished slum conditions. To date, the club still prioritizes those from the slums in their recruitments.

  9. Nikhil Kaul

    After reading Galeano’s book, I think my views for watching a soccer game have changed drastically. This book has opened my eyes to the true idea of “the beautiful game” and has articulated a feeling I’ve always thought but was never able to put into words. I’ve always enjoyed beautiful football and the gorgeous, although possibly risky and reckless football that some players play to please the fans and make us lose our breath. Having grown up in America and only being a spectator to the modern game, I’ve always known results based sports where winning is the only thing that matters. Now I really understand there is so much more to this game and how much people love this game.

    The second idea (how much people love this game) is what I think really compliments Pelada and what Gwendolyn and Luke are doing. As they go around playing pick up games all around the world, this concept and execution really demonstrate how much people love their football and where the true essence of the game is borne. It is the people in the small villages who play as young kids with whatever they can find for goals and a scrappy ball because they seek glory as everyone else in the beautiful game. These fields are where the true legends are made. I think the other thing that really is exemplified is how religious people are about their football, an idea echoed by Galeano in Soccer in Sun and Shadow. People almost idolize the ball everywhere and seeing these imaged paired with the knowledge of the rituals and superstitions held by fans and players really exemplifies how global and important this sport is to our history as a race of people. It is amazing how wherever they went, to workers who were tired after long days of work or to jails with inmates who live grim lives, all are able to find joy in the world’s game and escape the drudgery of their regular lives for a bit and be transported away. Away to a stadium in their minds filled with 100,000 fans and the weight of their city on their shoulders.

  10. Rebecca Quinn

    I really enjoyed watching the film, and excited in the refreshing perspective both Luke and Gwedolyn got from playing pick-up soccer games around the world. Both of them came from such structured sporting environments, playing at some of the top football colleges in the united states, Notre Dame and Duke. Many of my friends have trouble transitioning from collegiate soccer to a full-time job, so this trip seemed like a utopia going through post-graduation soccer blues.

    This film portrayed the purest form of football. As I mentioned in my previous comments, the purest form of football I think of is children, or adults in communities playing disorganized, creative football on any form of surface whether it be a local park, parking lot, or tennis court. Galleano shows a similar appreciation for football at this level, citing in his sketch ‘The Player’, “he started out playing for pleasure in the dirty streets of the slums” moving on to saying that professional players play for “duty” and with that, loses some of the joys once brought by the game.

    The most interesting part of the film for me was when Luke and Gwendolyn went to Villa 31 in Buenos Aires. After trying to play ‘club’ soccer games in the city, most of which were organized and cost money to join the clubs, Luke and Gwendolyn searched for a pick-up game that was not full. Upon entering Villa 31, a police officer warned them that their lives were in danger. In the villa, people stole and committed crimes for a living, but as Luke and Gwendolyn approached the local match, they were greeted with handshakes and were allowed to jump in on the match. It reminded me of the line in the ‘rules of the game’ sketch by Galleano, when he explained, “passion of masses offered entertainment and consolation to the poor and distraction from thoughts of strike and other evils”. As explained by a local in the film, the community played a football match at the same time each day. It was where differences, crime, poverty, and other things that plagued the community could be escaped, even if only for an hour.

  11. Vinay Kshirsagar

    One of the coolest parts of the film for me was the organized tournament every weekend in Mathare, on Austin’s Field. This soccer was markedly different from the pickup that Gwendolyn and Luke played elsewhere in the world. What really intrigued me was that the players and the fans created their own spectacle worth watching. You didn’t have to pay big bucks to go to a stadium to watch high intensity or high stakes soccer, it was happening right here in the slums of Nairobi. Part of it perhaps was the money — 20 schillings per player might accumulate to a significant prize — but the presence of fans, witnesses to the performance, fuel the intensity of the play as well. The moonshine brewer, James, said that when he’s working, “people think you’re just another drunkard. But when you get to the field, people are saying ‘Oh that person can play.’ “. That mini arena is a chance to rewrite your reputation. The song I Wanna Be Adored by the Stone Roses comes to mind.

    I was reminded of Galeano’s line about the Brazilian star Romario, about how he would practice signing his name even as a kid because he knew he’d be signing autographs as a star soccer player. That anecdote felt a little bit tragic after watching the documentary, because like Gwendolyn, so many kids practice signing their names but few get to actually make it big. Sometimes, having a one-track mind in pursuit of a goal is a celebrated trait, but sometimes it can backfire, like in the case of Nene, Gwendolyn’s teammate. If you spend all of your developmental years playing soccer, and you don’t make it your profession, then there’s not much to fall back on, and that’s something Galeano mentioned multiple times throughout the book.

  12. Nathaniel Cooney

    I enjoyed “Pelada” immensely after watching it for our Soccer Politics class. The concept behind travelling the world and playing pick-up soccer seems simple, but in reality, Gwendolyn and Luke discovered incredible stories within the sport. This idea was captured when they visited Italy and spoke with a Pizza Maker and writer. He wrote in one of his books, “Soccer will give you so much more than you will give it.” This quotation stuck with me throughout the film, and I thought it was particularly apt for Luke and Gwendolyn. As they struggled to come to grips with the fact that their professional lives within soccer may be over, they began to understand how much soccer still has to give. They may not play for professional teams and be cheered on by thousands of fans, but soccer can still provide countless benefits for their lives. Whether it is fandom, pickup games, or even just fitness, when almost every individual who plays the game has to eventually give up on the dream of being a professional, soccer still provides.

    One location they visited where this was particularly clear was in Brazil. “Pedala,” showed us a group of elderly Brazilian men who play every week together. They still have the passion and competitive spirit of the professional players, but after the game there is no punishment for winning and losing, instead they all participate in the “third half:” drinks between both sides. These men may be reaching the end of their lives and have certainly never been professionals, but soccer has given them an escape every week for however long they have been playing. The passion is apparent with bad challenges and yelling, but the joy was also clear as the “third half,” began.
    Throughout the film, I hoped that Luke and Gwendolyn would realize that soccer can still be important in their lives like these men without them continuing their careers professionally, and I feel that by the end they had seen enough to realize this. Gwendolyn appeared to struggle with it the most, but likely her experience in Iran really changed her perspective. When she was put in a situation where soccer could be taken away, she realized how much it means. My favorite scene of the movie was probably when Gwendolyn played with the Iranian women in hijabs, because it painted such a seemingly unlikely picture of what soccer could mean to people.

    Galeano captures the idea that soccer can give your life so much, even if you are not a professional player in Soccer in Sun and Shadow. The extreme case of the amateur professional is described in his sketch, “The 1966 World Cup,” where Pak, a dentist who only played soccer in his spare time, led North Korea to victory over the Italians. Soccer gave Pak the stage to become a legend, even if his main career was taking care of his countrymen’s teeth. While Pak might be the extreme case of an amateur soccer player, Galeano still implies a similar mindset to the Italian Pizza Maker. In “The End of the Match,” he writes when describing why he wrote this book, “Homage to soccer, celebration of its lights, denunciation of its shadows. I don’t know if it has turned out the way soccer would have liked, but I know it grew within me…” Galeano provides us with the sense that soccer is a living, breathing organism who gave him his book. This passion for the game is apparent throughout Galeano’s sketches and it was one of the main reasons I enjoyed the book so thoroughly. The Brazilians were given a way to come together later in life and enjoy a sport they love, while Galeano was given love and inspiration for his book; these both demonstrate how, “Soccer will give you so much more than you will give it.”

  13. Jake Seau

    I really enjoyed the movie Pelada. I thought the film was done extremely well, but something that I loved most about the movie was how it started. As a simple idea to pursue documenting pick-up games the film grew and became something so much more, like that of a pick-up game in the streets. Pick-up soccer games are special, in that they offer the viewer the chance to participate. At one point in the film and interviewee mentioned this part of the game. When you walk upon a pick-up game in an alley, or the street, or the neighborhood park, you think to yourself I want to play or that looks fun. More often times than not, you’ll be invited to play should you show interest. I love that aspect of the film, in that these pick-up games start so organically, whether it is somebody playing pass with another, and then it develops into something more as people join in, or an organized game that starts In the park. They showed these interactions as they join in and are accepted with open arms.

    The barriers between one person and another are brought down as the love for the game trumps all sort of judgment and stereotypes. This was epitomized when Gwendolyn was invited to join a group of male players playing in Iran, where it is technically illegal for men and women to play together. What I drew from this is that the film started as organically as a pick-up game. The film was originally meant for these four individuals to travel the world for about 2 years in search of pick-up games, however this film developed into something especially raw and real. It exposed the love of the game isn’t fixated on the big stage, but rather transcends that into to the parking lot or alleys next to the stadium. Something that I found out after watching the film and reading about it, was that the film’s name of “Peleda” translates to naked in Portuguese. I loved that part of the film, because it showed the truest and most raw side of the game, stripped of all the glamour and money and brought back to it’s truest and most honest form.

    My favorite quote from Eduardo Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow was something he said himself. He says “Years have gone by and I’ve finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good soccer. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadium I plead: ‘Pretty move, for the love of God.’ And when good soccer happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it.” I think this quote is also representative of the film because it gets to the main point of the film, and that is that no matter where in the world you are, soccer is loved by all. Good soccer does not only have to be played in the stadiums and under the lights, but can also be played in the alleys shown in the film or in the streets. Good soccer can be appreciated and loved regardless of the environment, regardless of who is playing, and regardless of the socio-economic statuses. This is what Galeano found in his book, is the appreciation of soccer is universal. A good touch, or a good play will always be appreciated regardless of where it is played.

  14. Michael Olson

    What a film. I mean minute after minute in Pelada I was just getting more and more jealous of Gwendolyn and Luke. About half way through the film, I started to play a guessing game with myself, trying to think of where they’d go next. They covered the entire world. If I ever need help finding a pickup game, I now know the two people to go to. My jealousy aside, Pelada was an enlightening film. It gave context to a lot of what Galeano was saying in Soccer in Sun and Shadow. Pelada acted as evidence and provided validity for some Galeano’s sketches.

    I thought the strongest connection between Pelada and Galeano’s sketches was about the soccer ball. Galeano describes the ball as this sacred thing. He writes, “she insists on being caressed, kisses, lulled to sleep on the chest or the foot.” (22) The ball needs attention. There are different kinds of soccer balls around the world too and regardless of the place, players always want to play with theirs. We can see all of this in Pelada. It didn’t matter where Gwendolyn and Luke traveled. South America, Africa, and Asia. All of these places loved the ball. Players young and old would obsess over the ball, trying to craft a perfect one. None were exactly the same, but they were always a focus of the game. If a player had a ball, he’d want to use it. Galeano’s piece goes hand in hand with Pelada here.

    The ball is really just an example that helps prove a greater theme. Soccer is this powerful form of connection and communication because of ball-like elements that make up the game. The ball, the player, the goalkeeper, the idol, the fan, the fanatic, the goal, the referee, the manager, and the stadium. These are all factors that unify the game anywhere you play. They’re commonalities that promote connection. You could be playing on Austin’s field in Kenya or in Austria for the European Championship. Even a parking lot can become a stadium. No matter the place, it’s still a stadium. Everyone knows an idol. Sure it could be Messi or it could be Ronaldinha, the young girl from South America with all the hope in the world. Every game (hopefully) has its goals scored regardless of the size of the stage. This list goes on and continues to show that soccer bridges the gap between vastly different worlds. These core elements of the game spark communication because anyone who plays can relate to one of the factors above no matter the background. It’s really amazing and I think this is why Gwendolyn and Luke were able to have such success finding games and having a fun time.

    (All of the listed items are aspects of soccer that Galeano writes about in his book. That’s why I picked them. There are definitely more factors.)

  15. Alex Torres

    One of the first things Gwendolyn Oxenham says in the film Pelada is “It’s not easy to quit.” This really resonated with me as someone who played soccer throughout my whole life and suddenly was forced to stop upon coming to college. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the film, not only because I could relate to both Gwendolyn and Luke but because it acted as a sort of visual representation to some of the sketches in Eduardo Galeano’s book Soccer in Sun and Shadow.

    Two sketches in Galeano’s book particularly stood out to me, as they relate to the film. First, “The Rules of the Game,” (28) one of the lengthier sketches which is essentially a brief history of the rules and how they came to be. Galeano says “the London accord put no limit on the number of players, or the size of the field, or the height of the goal, or the length of the contest.” Upon reading this again, after watching the film, it immediately reminded me of a specific scene in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Luke remarks on how the word “Pelada” which directly translates to “naked” is also the word used for “pick-up,” perhaps because “it is the most bare form of the game, stripped of all rules.” Furthermore, the topic of rules is seen a little later in the film in La Paz, Bolivia as Luke asks one of the prisoners in the San Pedro prison “what are the rules?” to which the prisoner replies “the rules? Anything goes…” Even though playing on the street in Brazil or in a prison in Bolivia is drastically different from playing in London, and places like the University of Cambridge, I could easily draw parallels between the two settings seen in Pelada and Soccer in Sun and Shadow. As Gwendolyn says “there are unique rules,” and that is one of the beauties of playing pick-up soccer as opposed to its professional counterpart.

    The other sketch that I thought related to Pelada was that which is entitled “Amulets and Spells” (70), not because the film directly mentioned any superstitions that players had but rather the overarching theme of magic. In the beginning of the film Luke’s aunt, Mary says “magic of soccer? No, I’m sorry I don’t think so, there’s no magic to soccer for me,” as she clearly disapproves of Luke playing the game. However, later in the film we meet Cristiano Cavina, a pizza maker and writer in Italy who thinks differently. He claims that “when he writes about soccer his memory expands and becomes magical,” reading a part of his book which says “I would talk to him of the soccer God and the magic he confers.” Cavina makes it seem as though there is a soccer God of some sort who uses magic to control the game, similarly, in Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Galeano describes how the Mexican 1930 World Cup team believed they had the Virgin of Guadalupe on their side. Clearly, there is no single “magic” factor that determines the fate of a game because as the age-old saying goes “any team can beat any other team on any given day,” but for some a belief in this magic or a higher power still remains an integral part of soccer.

  16. Michael McAloon

    “Pelada” was a wonderful film that highlighted the universality of soccer and the way in which it affects and inspires people in different ways across the globe. I absolutely love traveling and learning about the people and culture in the countries I visit, and like Luke and Gwendolyn I’ve had the opportunity to learn through soccer. Whether it was in rural Cambodia, where I played pick-up with local teenagers for hours each day, or Argentina, where I traveled on an exchange program and played at a family reunion in Cordoba, or the Netherlands, where I went on trial with FC Groningen and played in an academy game against NEC Nijmegen, I have had the great opportunity to bridge cultural and language barriers and connect with people across the world. Pelada brought me back to these amazing times in my life and reminded me of the power a simple game has to encapsulate social, political and cultural dynamics.

    The film springs from a seemingly simple idea: traveling the world to see how soccer is played in different contexts and learn what it tells us about the people who play the game and the place they are from. This simple idea, however, allows viewers of the film to understand very complex realities. We catch a glimpse of the sociopolitical tensions between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem, who consistently spar and with each other during pick-up matches and attempt to exclude each other from playing next. One of the most powerful quotes in the movie for me was when a Jewish man discussed the transcendent power some attribute to soccer and commented that he believes “football isn’t above politics…that’s bullshit.” This is only one manifestation of the game, however, which has countless “realities” based on the context in which it is played. In some places the film takes us, we see that football is, in fact, above politics. In Argentina, by contrast, we are able to see the way in which football is played by street kids in the Villa 31 slum, where the game offers them an escape from the reality of daily life and the terrible socioeconomic situation people find themselves in. The game is “all free” and seen as a wonderful distraction and amazing learning opportunity for the talented few, such as Carlos Tevez, who will eventually defy the limitations the place of his birth placed on him. The connection that Luke and Gwendolyn are able to make with these boys through the game results in some offering to escort them out the area after the game in order to protect them. These boys could have very easily robbed the film crew, who were outsiders to their community and representatives of privilege. Instead, whatever tensions or desires to do so were eliminated through playing the game, which brought them all together and placed them on a level playing field where they all shared the same ambitions, desires, and means. We also see soccer’s power to transcend politics in Iran, where we learn that the Iranian officials who suspected the pair of some form of subversion became interested in their project and asked them to explain how the game in their country compared to others across the globe. I think that all of this really highlights the fact that soccer can manifest itself differently in different contexts. In Jerusalem, the tensions between Jews and Arabs did not stop at the touch line. Rather, the game was more or less a competition between the two groups who sought revenge for perceived aggressions or injustice from the other side. In Argentina, the game offered poor teenagers an escape from their sociopolitical reality and allowed them to feel as if anything was possible. In Kenya, different groups from around the slum came together to compete against each other, but it seemed that tensions were not high. Rather, the game brought the community together for a rare time in which everyone forgot the realities of life.

    I think that the film is a great visual accompaniment to Galeano’s book. Both provide short scenes that highlight the power, passion, and diversity of the global game. With each new scene in the film, I was reminded of a quote from Galeano’s first sketch, “Soccer,”: “Nobody earns a thing from the crazy feeling that for a moment turns a man into a child playing with a balloon, a cat toying a ball of yarn, a ballet dancer flying through the air with a ball as light as a balloon or a ball of yarn, playing without even knowing he’s playing, with no purpose or clock or referee.” Galeano appreciates the game in its purest form, the form that Luke and Gwendolyn present in their film. In the majority of the scenes we see, there are no referees and there exists no clock. The players receive no wages for playing the game and likely never will. While we are busy getting caught up by the commercialized version of the game pushed to us on television every day, we often forget the pure game played on streets and courts and sandlots, where “nobody earns a thing” for playing. In these games, the players are free of the expectations of professional football and possess the freedom to be unabashedly bold and to be, quite simply, who they really are. The game for billions of people around the world is not about money or glory, but rather, as Yan points out in his post, “nothing more than sheer desire.”

  17. Soravit Sophastienphong

    At its essence, football is a simple sport. All you need is a ball and two goals in the form of cones, shoes, or even rocks. What struck me the most about “Paleda” is its portrayal of football’s universality around the world, which is in large part due to the aforementioned simplicity. Throughout their journey, Gwen and Luke visit various countries where they barely know the language or culture, yet football acts as a medium through which they can not only play but also find commonality with the people they meet. On the field, football transcends the human differences of race and class, acting as a unifying force that makes strangers work together towards a common goal, both figuratively and literally. Whether they were playing in Nairobi, Buenos Aires, or Shanghai, they will at least be respected for their ability to play football and passion for the game.

    On a related note, I was fascinated by Galeano’s account of how the British along with other material imports brought football to Latin America, where countries like Uruguay and Brazil adopted the game despite initial reluctance. I imagine myself as a native who’d never seen football before in my life suddenly noticing a bunch of foreigners kicking a ball around and wonder how I would have reacted. In his book, whether it be admiring legendary Uruguayan stars from the early 20th century or recent stars like Ronaldinho and Zidane, Galeano’s passion for football is evidently in the beauty of the game and not the joys of of winning/competing. One can see from the film that for the impoverished, football not only acts as a dream through which players like Ronaldinha can escape poverty but also a regular part of people’s daily lives that allow them to be free from the constraints of society. The criminals in Buenos Aires, prisoners in Nairobi, and even AK, the amazing freestyler in Shanghai, spend the majority of their time on the field, where the choices you’ve made in the past no longer define you. AK abandoned a well-paying banking job to do what he loves and is good at, and as Galeano asserts throughout his book, money despite all of its benefits has stripped the game of its beauty.

  18. Jack Bloomfeld

    For me, one of the most interesting parts of “Pelada” was seeing the perspective of Luke and Gwendolyn who played soccer for all of their childhood but failed to make soccer a full time job. Many people are in similar positions, but you rarely hear their about stories. Instead, the media is full of success stories and heroes that manage to make it into the big leagues of soccer and become famous (because not many people want to read about the players who get cut from the professional teams and end up working on billboards). Luke and Gwendolyn clearly love the sport and desired to play at a higher level, but the intensity of the soccer industry left them struggling to find other purposes in life. Galeano references the soccer industry a lot, especially in his passage, “Soccer,” and describes it as transitioning soccer from “beauty to duty.” The story of Luke and Gwendolyn is just another reason to hate the soccer industry.

    I also loved to see visual representations of people who view soccer as a way of life and an escape, just like Galeano describes it. Seeing so many different people and cultures who play soccer literally every day, and even say that it is the only thing that they look forward to in the day, really drove home the point for me. When people end up in unfortunate situations, such as being stuck in a jail in Bolivia, or working tirelessly for 12 hours a day making moonshine, it is soccer that keeps them going. I connected those scenes with Galeano’s passage, “The Opiate of the People?” because this piece also makes comments about soccer being a way of life. The comparison between soccer and opiates is interesting, and is illustrated in some cultures seen in “Pelada” because they practically have a soccer addiction. Like how some people are addicted to opiates and take them every day to be happy, some people simply need to play soccer every day to be happy, regardless of what misfortunes they have suffered in life. Another comparison Galeano makes in that same passage is between the worship of soccer and the worship of god. I saw many examples of that comparison in the film as well, particularly in how soccer had specific rules and etiquette in each culture, much like how religions have different customs in each culture. The immense devotion to soccer in so many different cultures really impacted me in this beautiful film.

  19. Vidit Bhandarkar

    Throughout his book, Galeano highlights the beauty of soccer while frowning upon how commercial the game has become more recently. Players have become commodities that are bought, sold, and loaned. He says “the higher a player goes in professional soccer, the greater are his obligations, always more numerous than his rights. He must live by the decisions of others, suffer military discipline, exhausting training, and incessant travel, and play day after day after day, always in top form, producing ever more”. Due to the money that has come into the sport (from TV rights, and the multinational corporations that “own the ball”), players play safer and less beautiful soccer. Playing has become more of a job.
    Galeano also mentions that although soccer can be uniting and can lift people out of poverty, this is not always the case. Most people never make it to the top; they play simply because they love the game. This is the underlying theme of the movie ‘Pelada’. Pelada literally means ‘pick up game’. Gwendolyn and Luke traveled the world and joined ‘peladas’ in a variety of countries. They used to play competitive soccer at a college level but they did not make it professionally. However, they were not willing to give up on the sport. From playing with inmates in a Bolivian prison, to playing in a slum in Nairobi, they did it all. They played with people who did not play for money or fame. Instead, they played purely out of love for the sport. They used soccer as an escape from their hardships. Once they stepped onto the field, it was as if they were in another world. Most of the times, the field was concrete, covered in waste and the ball was in tatters. This did not slow them down one bit. This passion and genuine desire to play for the love of the sport was truly moving and it resonated with Galeano’s view on soccer and how it should be played.
    Even though the playing conditions were not ideal in most places, the football portrayed in Pelada was beautiful. Quick passing and movement dominated the games in all the countries visited by Luke and Gwendolyn. Since the players playing had practically grown up together, they knew each other’s playing style and could communicate and link up effortlessly. In his book ‘Soccer in Sun and Shadow’, Galeano talks about how in more recent times, a lot of players from South American and African countries are ‘exported’ to Europe. This affects team chemistry at a national level. The players barely get any time together and this shows on the field. It is interesting to see how the communication that Galeano craves is depicted throughout Pelada in places you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see pretty football.
    While watching Pelada I was also astonished to see what a global sport soccer is. It has reached China, Japan, Israel, and Africa. It is played everywhere and anywhere and by everyone (even women in Jerusalem!). Finally, Galeano talks about how most great players come from the poorest of backgrounds. Luciana (Ronaldinha) in Pelada, is a wonderful example of this. She lived in a slum in Brazil and she made it into the Brazilian National Youth Team. Her mother supported her throughout the way and truly believed that soccer is the answer. She said, “soccer is a sport, it’s a future, it’s what everyone wants, and it’s what everyone loves.” This blind belief in and true love of soccer is what Galeano attempts to highlight throughout his book by vividly describing the beautiful game.
    To conclude, I believe that ‘Pelada’ and ‘Soccer in Sun and Shadow’ go hand in hand in that they try and emphasize that soccer does not need money, fame or success to be enjoyed; it is beautiful in its purest form. I can imagine a wide eyed and ecstatic Galeano glued to the TV watching Pelada. It depicts everything he likes about soccer: elegance, passion, unity, and grace.

  20. Justin Sandler

    First off, I really like the idea behind the film of Paleda. Two people who loved soccer, but could no longer play at the highest level, found something they could do and love while continuing to play soccer. I think the video serves as an interesting contrast to Galeano, because it is so different, but when you boil it down it is so similar. The movie Paleda and Galeano’s book want to show the beauties of soccer no matter where you play them. Whether it be in the bright lights of a massive stadium or in the slums of a village, soccer is meant to be beautiful in its purest form. When your really look at it, pick up soccer is kind of how Galeno wish the game where play because there are no outside distractions and the players can show off their beauty.

    While almost all of Galeano’s skits take place in the massive stadiums and on the biggest stages, there are far more similarities than one might expect. We all know winning is probably the most important thing in sports. Although, Galeano talks about how he prefers beautiful soccer, the majority of people care about winning. The same goes for the pick up games. Whether it be the competitive old men in Brazil, or the Arabs playing in the ancient city, winning is a priority. Winning is what fuels us to try harder and give that extra effort we didn’t think we had. While there aren’t huge video screens showing the scores or keeping stats, the people in the pick up games know who is winning and they are very competitive. Also another thing that might be different is the skill levels. Professionals are the cream of the crop and suppose to be above all of us. However, many professional started their careers playing pickup games in the slums of the villages. The little girl who they call ronaldinho is a prime example of someone who starts their career on the slums and could end up playing the game at the highest level. Everyone has to start somewhere and the majority of people start playing pick up which is the game in its simplest form.

    Another interesting similarity is the influence of money. Galeano tells us that money has ruined the game. Even in the prison people bet on the games and I am sure the game becomes fixed because tons of money are thrown on it. Whether it be in the prison, the slums, or the bright lights, when money gets involved, the games get influenced, and that ruins the game. Both professional soccer and pick up are best when they go back to their roots of just people playing to the best of their ability and giving their best effort to play beautiful soccer. I really enjoyed the Paleda movie and thought it did a fabulous job showing soccer in the way it is most widely played, which is on the streets and random fields, not in the stadiums with thousands of people.

  21. Jan Maceczek

    In this captivating yet simplistic story of two former college soccer stars traveling the world playing pick-up, Paleda remarkably makes profound statements about life and soccer alike. In the many struggling communities that Luka and Gwendolyn visit, it is evident that soccer has a unique importance to fans and players. The theme that soccer is larger than life is similarly echoed by Galeano’s Soccer in the Sun and Shadow.
    During Luke and Gwendolyn’s visit to Argentina, for instance, some of the Villa 31 locals voice that soccer is a path to a better life to them. The youth idolize players like Carlos Tevez, who grew up in Fuerte Apache, a town similar to Villa 31 and inspiration for his nickname, El Apache. As a decorated striker, Tevez embodies the “rags to riches” story that soccer brings. However, the realistic odds of finding a better life through soccer are slim at most. Despite these odds however, soccer provides the great gift of hope. Through these aspirations, young players surrounded by struggle find an escape from their lives. More directly, it also plays a role in keeping people away from dangerous and illegal behavior, and as well as enforcing regressive societal structures. In Tehran, Gwendolyn is allowed to play in the game despite Iranian law. While the crew is reported to the government, this shows that soccer can break down inequality, even if on the microcosmic level. The sketch, “Creole Soccer” In Galeano’s Soccer in the Sun and Shadow, masterfully portrays the role of soccer in challenged communities: “Like the tango, soccer blossomed in the slums. It required no money and could be played with nothing more than sheer desire.”
    Escaping life though soccer is not limited to struggling and repressed areas, as this Paleda shows. In Tokyo, people have an even harder time to make room to play soccer. Interestingly, this shines light on how careers and professional responsibilities can hold one captive, and prevent the pursuit of complete fulfillment. Although work-centric communities are vastly different from the economically struggling ones, the potential of soccer to create joy is identical. As Gwendolyn notes in the closing moments of the film, “all around the world people are playing for nothing, for no other reason than to play,” attesting to the universal language that is soccer.

  22. Carolina Herrera

    “It’s a sport, it’s a future, it’s what everyone wants, and it’s what everyone loves,” says Juliana’s mother in Pelada. This idea that soccer can be a gateway to a better life is a theme that runs throughout Eduardo Galeano’s book, Soccer in the Sun and Shadow. In Galeano’s book, he talks about how various star soccer players came from poor backgrounds and had grown up playing in pick-up games. These pick-up soccer games become the subject of Pelada, where Gwendolyn Oxenham and Luke Boughen travel around the world looking for and filming pick-up soccer games, one can see the universality, the die-hard love for the game, and the extent to which people will go to play soccer. To Galeano, soccer is this universal language that can transcend social, political, and cultural boundaries and this was definitely underscored throughout the film, as people in the various countries they visited would direct them to the soccer field and welcome them into their games. I found that the most welcoming people in the film were often in the poorest most dangerous parts. For example, in Buenos Aires, Villa 31, is known to be a place where people steal and commit crimes; however, they allowed Gwendolyn and Luke to play without hesitation after they had been denied at other pick-up clubs in the city. Additionally, I found it interesting how the best game of pick-up soccer happens in a prison in Bolivia and how Gwendolyn and Luke had to bribe their way into the prison soccer match, which could be a microcosm for the corruption that happens in professional soccer. Nevertheless, these prisoners talk about how everyday they play or watch soccer and how the sport gave them something to do instead of doing drugs or selling drugs. Soccer provides people with a future and that is why so many people love and adore the sport. In Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Galeano glorifies the soccer players who embody the “rags to riches” narrative, and while Pelada highlights the hopes and dreams of kids playing pick-up soccer, Luke and Gwendolyn themselves shed light on the hard and sad reality that not everyone makes it to the “big leagues.” Lastly, in both the movie and the book there is this need to contribute to soccer beyond actually participating in the game. For Galeano it was watching every game and writing Soccer in Sun and Shadow because his leg prevented him from playing the game. For a construction worker it is building the World Cup Stadium in Cape Town, so if he doesn’t make the national team he can say he took part in the World Cup because he helped build the stadium.

    1. Laurent Dubois Post author

      These are really interesting comments, Carolina, as I feel like Pelada’s structure as a story really revolves around this question of soccer as a realm of possibility. The dream of using the sport to escape poverty in some way, also brought up as you suggest in Galeano, is one part of it. But what is interesting about this documentary, too, is that basically all the people we meet (except Ronaldinha) are people for whom soccer has not been a route out of their lives into another place, but rather has become a space of beauty and camaraderie in their daily lives. Gwendolyn’s story, and Luke’s too, is in a sense a melancholy one — I find it so striking how at the beginning his aunt clearly really dislikes soccer, as she feels it has taken Luke away from more serious pursuits it seems — but in a way the journey itself is a kind of healing occasion for her. It’s interesting, because in her book that we’ll read later in the semester, she talks about the way in which so many women players understand, from the beginning, that soccer won’t bring them riches, but use it to seek other things in their lives. What is powerful about the film, ultimately, is that is pushes us to think outside the more market-oriented aspects of the sport, just as Galeano laments some of the ways in which money, he feels, actually threatens the beauty of the game.

  23. Erik Reiss

    Pelada was truly an eye-opening film that provided amazing insight into the global passion for soccer, the overall popularity of the game, and its ability to bring people of all different types of backgrounds together. Simultaneously, the film conveyed the diversity of the sport and the array of venues it is played in, whether it be in the slums of third world countries or on top of sky rises in bustling metropolitan centers. Throughout the film, there were many moments that spoke to and captured some of the prose in Galeano’s Soccer in Sun and Shadow. Specifically, one strong connection I drew between the two regarded Galeano’s piece “From Mutilation to Splendor,” which spoke about the democratizing nature of the game, and the scene from Pelada about Ronaldinha, the talented young girl from Brazil. Galeano makes the point that “soccer offers a shot at social mobility for a poor child…who had no other toy but the ball.” He continues saying “the ball is the only fairy godmother [the poor child] can believe in” (49). In Pelada, Luciana, who was nicknamed Ronaldinha, grew up in what appears to be a poor neighborhood in Brazil but hopes to use soccer as an avenue to develop a career. In the words of her mother, “[soccer’s] a sport, it’s a future, it’s what everyone wants, and it’s what everyone loves,” and she wishes her daughter a successful career in Rio, the United States, Italy, Germany, or wherever the sport may lead her (11:56). Soccer is much more than just a game, and while many play for leisure, it also has the ability to change lives and rescue some from terrible situations at home. This same notion was demonstrated through the words of the man from Villa 31 who speaks of Carlos Tevez, saying that he’s like one of them, coming from a place similar to Villa 31 and always playing in poor neighborhoods as a child. Tevez rose from the slums of Argentina to become a great forward playing for some of the top clubs in the world (18:46).

    Another moment from the film that was very moving and shared a connection with Galeano’s prose came from the scene in Nairobi. In this scene, the brewers are competing in the finals of the local tournament. But, the striking aspect of the scene has nothing to do with the playing of the game, but rather the fulfillment and recognition it brings to the players. They say that “some people see them pushing carts [of moonshine], and they don’t know they’re players…[thinking they’re] just another drunkard. But, when [they] get to the field people are saying ‘oh, [these people] can play'” (47:47). Soccer provides these men with an identity of sorts. Rather than just being another worker in the community, they are someone who the kids look up to and someone who others recognize for their contributions on the soccer field. This idea of identity is present in Galeano’s “The End of the March,” writing “soccer has always been a symbol of primordial collective identity…a style of play is a way of being that reveals the unique profile of each [individual] and affirms his right to be different” (243).

    Lastly, I think one of the moments that capture how soccer is such a powerful form of connection and depicts the passion those have for the sport is the scene regarding the construction workers who are building the world cup stadium (52:50). They skip lunch every day, and instead, they eat during tea time, so that they can play soccer, exclaiming that “they do it for the love of the game.” One of the workers speaks about how we would’ve loved to have the chance to play for his national team, but since he can’t do that, he’s thankful that he can at least do something big for his country and say that “he took part in [the world cup]” by building the stadium. I think this scene speaks levels to the devotion and passion these men have for not only the game of soccer but also for the country they are from.


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