There’s no denying that football/soccer is a global game. They play it almost every country on the map. There are numerous professional leagues and a little event called the World Cup where the best players in the world have their chance to represent their countries and compete for national pride. There are billions of fans and millions of players… and most of those players didn’t have what it takes to play professionally. The passion for the game doesn’t just go away and so they play any way that they can. Pelada is a documentary about pickup soccer games around the world.
The documentary follows Luke and Gwendolyn, two former college stars who didn’t quite make it professionally. Their whole life, their identity was soccer/football. And when you realize you can’t achieve your dreams you have to redefine yourself somehow. They embarked on a six month long trip across 25 countries, finding games and joining in. Football/soccer is a unifier and they meet people with interesting stories and finding out what the game means to them, how it defines them.
They meet a young Brazilian called Ronaldinha, nicknamed after her idol Ronaldinho because she has his talent. They meet a bunch of old timers who meet once a week to play games. Very old, decrepit, and slow-paced games, but games nonetheless. They go into the San Pedro Prison in Bolivia and play some intense 5 on 5 games with the inmates. The inmates are crazy good at soccer/football because that’s all they have to look forward to.
In Kenya, they go to a small village dirt lot known as Austin’s Field, named for a guy who lost his family and found solace in soccer. He is always at the field, maintaining it and organizing games for the children. On Saturdays he arranges a tournament and teams compete for a meager cash prize. The whole village comes out to watch and the sideline becomes a wall of bodies. Football is their escape from the drudgery of life.
They go to China and meet a group of players with a whole different style of soccer. They like to freestyle, putting more emphasis of tricks involving juggling and fancy footwork. It’s like breakdancing with a soccer ball. They also play small 2v2 games, usually in public parks with lots of passersby. Their goal is to spread awareness of street soccer and freestyling. I noticed that in most countries, the players were all really passionate and would get angry and get frustrated. The Chinese players were also passionate, but the only emotion they showed was pure joy. They found happiness in the game that sets them free. Most players they showed around the world were poor and soccer was their escape. In China, the main player AK gave up his high paying and stressful job to kick a ball in the street. Soccer is his sanctuary.
Luke and Gwendolyn also go to Jerusalem, home of three major religions and a shit ton of tension. And they play soccer with each other. They are never on the same team, they play against each other. But they are playing on the same field and that is worth something. They openly say that they hate each other, but if they still kick a ball around instead of fighting with fists or bullets.
They go to Tehran, Iran where women are second-class citizens and the government forbids women from playing with men. Luke and Gwendolyn jump into a pickup game and someone reported them to the government. Gwendolyn finds a few women who play. They have a quick game, playing in hijabs and looking uncomfortable. Luckily the government doesn’t confiscate their video and this documentary is the result.
Soccer/football is the world’s sport for a reason. This movie takes you all over and shows you why. I just wish that Luke and Gwendolyn wouldn’t spend all their time bitching about how they didn’t make it. They try to make the movie about themselves, when it should be about soccer. If you say your movie is about pickup soccer games around the world, keep it about pickup soccer games. No one wants to see a glorified home movie about 2 white Americans travelling the world.
This is a good documentary overall, especially when it’s about soccer games and not a couple with failed dreams. It’s worth seeing and I watched it for free on Hulu, so if you have an hour and half to kill, this is a decent way to spend it.
Critically Rated at 13/17