Kicking off across the nation comes a movie about a charismatic, highly talented yet tragic soccer star Brazilian footballer, Heleno de Freitas. The striker spent most of his career with Botafogo, scoring over 200 goals for the club from 1939 through 1948.
Brazilian-born actor Rodrigo Santoro (“300″) stars as the handsome, well-educated and wealthy forward who also had an explosive temper and an insatiable sexual appetite while smoking and drinking to excess. The actor lost nearly 30 pounds from his already lean frame for the role in which De Freitas’ hedonistic lifestyle eventually catches up with him. The soccer hero was just 39 when he died from syphilis in a sanatorium in Barbacena in 1959.
Director and co-writer José Henrique Fonseca talks about what drew him to the subject. “I have always been fascinated with characters at the point of no return, up against the wall with no way out as demonstrated in my first feature, “Man of the Year.”
As a young soccer fan, I used to hear all sorts of crazy stories about Heleno getting into mischief around town and playing soccer on a secluded Copacabana beach, back when Rio was absolute paradise, far from the storm of the Second World War.
Paradoxically, it was because of the War that through his prime years Heleno never got to compete for a world cup, as the tournament was cancelled in 1942 and 1946. He had been the most passionate and talented player the world had ever seen. But for all his dedication and driving force, he was never able to take control of his destiny – and Heleno’s legend remains one of exhilarating peaks and desperate valleys. I suppose I make films to examine lives like his under the microscope”.
The Brazilian director of this black-and-white biographical drama talks about the research and casting process of the lead characters.
“My first call went out to Rodrigo Santoro, a very good friend with whom I had been trying to find a project to work together on. I told him Heleno’s story and said I could only make the film if he agreed to play the role. Rodrigo didn’t need to read anything. He agreed on the spot.
Adds Fonseca: “We spent a lot of time of researching Heleno’s life. Aside from the biography, we interviewed a number of Heleno’s contemporaries from the scene at Copacabana. Their average age was ninety. I tried to see Heleno with fresh eyes and not fall into the trap of going along with the dominant folklore and gossip swirling around his name.
About casting, my aim was to put Heleno between two very strong women. In that regard, we were delighted to have signed Angie Cepeda and Alinne Moraes to play, respectively, Diamantina, his night club singer mistress who drives him crazy; and Silvia, as the wife, who stood by her man for as long as she could.”
Having changed quite a bit over six decades, the filmmakers received a pleasant surprise when it came to location shooting in Rio.
“I resolved not to re-create locations – theatres, streets, bars – on sound stages. In- stead, we scoured the city to find as many locations as we could that remained unspoiled from the period, “ says the director. “It was a great sensation to thereby discover a hidden city inside today’s Rio that I didn’t know still existed. We shot bits and pieces in different locations around town, as if working on pieces for a giant jigsaw puzzle. Those images rendered a unique view of Rio de Janeiro I hope audiences will recognize on screen”.
An avid student of Hollywood film history, Fonseca explains why he decided to shoot in black and white.
“I have always been fascinated with the golden age of the Hollywood silver screen; and later with remarkable films like Otto Preminger’s “The Man with the Golden Arm,” and John Frankenheimer’s “The Manchurian Candidate.” Thinking about those films, the notion of shooting in black and white stuck me as the perfect way to anchor “Heleno” in the atmosphere of the period”.
Santoro won Best Actor in the Lima Latin American Film Festival and Havana Film Festival for this title role.