September 20, 2007
Garrincha, Joy of the People, 1962
Something like a kindred spirit to Hiroshi Teshigahara's José Torres in its mundane observations of the dedicated craft and everyday rituals of a champion sportsman, Garrincha, Joy of the People is an affectionately rendered and thoughtful, if somewhat idealized portrait of Manoel Francisco dos Santos, affectionately called "Garrincha", the Brazilian football star considered to be one of the country's greatest players ever, second only to soccer legend (and former team mate), Pelé. Nicknamed Garrincha - "little bird" - for his awkward stance resulting from a birth defect that produced a sideways curvature of his legs, Garrincha is a quintessential working class hero - a native son from the impoverished textile mill town of Pau Grande whose mediocre job performance at the factory was overlooked only because of his ability to lead the local team to victory during weekend competitions. Assembled as a collage of still photographs, newsreel archives from the 1958 and 1962 World Cup tournaments, and present-day documentary footage of Garrincha's modest home life with his wife and daughters in his boyhood town (a house that was given as a gift by local businesses after his performance at the 1958 World Cup finals), the film also serves as a whimsical metaphor for the essence of Brazilian culture, where the everyday drudgery, alienation, and competition inherent in urban existence gives way to the fleeting escapism and solidarity of a national sport - where the erasure of indigenous identity and the pressures of modern civilization in the delusive quest for a post-colonial European ideal is briefly trumped by the idiosyncratic sight of a quirky, superstitious, simple living, native footballer with crooked knees and killer dribbles.