A moody, lugubrious rumination on Brazilian football player, HELENO traces the life and career of Heleno de Freitas (Rodrigo Santoro) as he captures the spirit of his nation, the last great Brazilian superstar before a young upstart named Pele would capture world acclaim.
Easy comparisons could be made to RAGING BULL – like the Scorsese masterpiece, HELENO is about a troubled, complicated athlete who’s his own worst enemy, greeting success with decisions that inevitably lead to disaster. The film is also shot in a stark, black-and-white palate, almost bichromatic at times so rich is the dark/light image. The comparisons end there, unfortunately – where BULL proved to transcend the sport it was covering, while still providing both visceral and beautiful representations of the main subject at the height of his prowess, HELENO fails to either give us as rich a psychological view as would be deserved, coupled with a fairly clunky presentation of the football itself.
Santora’s plays the role well, but there’s a layer of craft that seems missing in the presentation. The editing seems either rushed or awkward, sequences where our subject slips into syphilitic madness lack any real power. There’s a compelling story here, certainly one well worth telling, but in the end these unfulfilled moments add up to create a pretty frustrating presentation.
Unfortunately, much like its subject, HELENO could have been much greater than it ended up being.