Brazilian director José Henrique Fonseca’s biographical drama, “Heleno” is about one of his country’s greatest footballers never to have made it to a World Cup (and hence, unknown to the larger world), Heleno de Freitas.
Not surprisingly, this film was my first introduction to the legend whose life seems to have been scripted by a Greek tragedian. From humble beginnings, Heleno rose to stardom and nationwide fame even though he wasn’t exactly playing for a top club (ironically, Botafogo will win a championship title after he leaves). As luck would have it, two successive world cups were also cancelled during his peak – understandable, it was after all the Second World War, and by the time the next one arrives, Heleno is already in a sanatorium, abandoned by his wife, and who would soon marry his best friend. Syphilis had taken its toll and he dies very young, in his late thirties. The film looks back from his final days, to a period when he had everything at his feet – the game, the money, and the women.
Fonseca’s drama is an extremely sympathetic portrait of a man that some considered was irascible, with an insufferable ego. Considering that geniuses very rarely come in any other form, we are given a glimpse of what it is to be Heleno, and what made him feel so special, through some thoughtful and well executed screenplay. The talented Rodrigo Santoro gives a sterling performance as the tragic hero – by even shedding considerable weight for playing his character’s final days. Shot in crisp black and white, the costumes and art direction avidly capture the glitz of Heleno’s world and the period, including a memorable recreation of Copacabana in one of the scenes. The soundtrack adds to the nostalgia, and the performances by all the main actors are also of a high standard. Needless to say, this very well made film is Recommended Viewing..!
There are three brief scenes of nudity in the film; the first is attributed to Colombian-born actress Angie Cepeda – she plays a club entertainer that Heleno befriends and has her for a mistress. The second is Rodrigo Santoro himself as a very ill and disoriented Heleno. The final scene involve some unknown actresses who play prostitutes that Heleno picks up during his last days.