MRR Movie Review: Heleno

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A biography of the tragic life of one of Brazil's greatest soccer players, Heleno de Freitas.
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Movie Review: "Heleno"

-- Rating: R
Length: 116 minutes
Release Date: December 7, 2012
Directed by: José Henrique Fonseca
Genre: Drama, Biography

Biography films must walk a thin line between telling the true story of a famous person while still revealing details that make the film exciting for viewers. "Heleno," from director José Henrique Fonseca, must go a step further by introducing the world to a man that some might not know or recognize.

Heleno de Freitas was one of the top soccer players in Brazil during the 1940s. Known for his massive temper and his gorgeous looks, other players gave him the nickname Gilda. "Heleno" traces his life and times, showing the skills that made him famous and the life he lived away from the field. Born in one of the wealthy areas of the city, Heleno (Rodrigo Santoro, "300") discovers his love of soccer at an early age. As he plays professionally and enjoys the celebrity life, viewers see the darker side of fame.

"Heleno" features gorgeous sets that will take viewers right back to the 1940s and 1950s. The director uses photography from Walter Carvalho that increases the realistic feel of the film. Some viewers might even feel like they are watching a documentary instead of a film. Everything from the costumes and cars to the hairstyles and buildings shown onscreen have that realistic look that a biography needs.

Santoro is a strong actor, but the film lacks some of the details that fans and viewers want. There is never any explanation of what drives Heleno, and the director seldom delves into the personal side of his life. Henrique Fonseca presents Heleno as some type of iconic superstar, and he gives the film a slightly glossy and slick look that rarely offers anything new. Even when it comes to the scenes set on the soccer field, Henrique Fonseca seems to hold something back, showing Heleno as a great player. The rivalries he had on the field and the antics that made him famous were hardly mentioned. The director makes it clear that he wants to focus on the highlights of the player's life and not any of the rumors or gossip surrounding his one life; however, this is sad because those are the moments that make the film pop.

The real Heleno was an interesting man off the field. Despite marrying his wife Silvia (Alinne Moraes), he never remained devoted to her. He engaged in a long-term affair with Diamantina (Angie Cepeda), which eventually led to problems on the field. The man became addicted to cigarettes and battled a nasty case of syphilis, which he ignored for years. He was only thirty-nine years old when he landed in a sanatorium, and just a short time later, he died of his disease.

The director does reveal those details in the film, which lets viewers know that his life wasn't always golden. He occasionally delves into Heleno's personal life, showing his womanizing side and his inability to commit to anything beyond soccer. The problem is that viewers will leave without getting a full look at the player's life. Many viewers will think that Heleno was just another famous playboy who spent more time seducing the wives and girlfriends of coaches and players than playing the game.

While "Heleno" suffers from a few flaws, it is one of the classic biography films. Santoro shares phenomenal heat with Cepeda, which will lead viewers to believe that the two shared a relationship. From the moment when they meet in a sultry nightclub to the stolen moments that they share in darkened apartments, the director makes it clear that theirs was a complicated and passionate affair. Santoro shares the same chemistry with Moraes, making it easy to see why he embarked on relationships with both women. Moraes herself gives an award-winning performance, playing the loving woman stuck at home while her husband cats around town.

Santoro, who is primarily cast as a supporting actor, jumps both feet first into "Heleno." The actor has the same swagger and good looks that made Cary Grant and Rock Hudson famous. Santoro has no problem portraying Heleno's early years as a hothead and his later years as a nearly bankrupt man with little family or friends left in his life. As the film jumps between his successful early years and his later years inside the sanatorium walls, viewers will find themselves drawn into the world that he made for himself.

"Heleno" is a sometimes-dark film, made even darker by the black-and-white photography. It is also an interesting film. Even those who have no interest in the soccer player or knowledge of his life will find something reward and intriguing about the film.

Rating: 4 out of 5