[7 May 2014]
PopMatters Film and TV Editor
Editor’s note: The other short film premiering with “Barbosa” during this week’s 30 for 30 Soccer Stories is Brett Ratner’s jaunty “Mysteries of the Rimet Trophy,” tracing by way of found footage the theft and recovery of the World Cup trophy in 1966.
“He never said he failed. He told me something worse than that.” By the time Roberto Muylaert tells this story, near the end of in Barbosa: The Man Who Made Brazil Cry, you know what that worse story will be. Moacir Barbosa, the goalkeeper on Brazil’s 1950 World Cup team, tells his biographer, “I continually think about that goal. Even when I sleep, I dream of the goal. I’ve replayed that goal in my mind thousands of times.”
“That goal” is the one by which Uruguay won the FIFA World Cup in Rio’s Maracanã Stadium. It’s the one kicked by Uruguayan forward Alcides Ghiggia, and it’s the one that Brazilians won’t forget. Appearing on television in 2000, Barbosa faces an interviewer who asks, “Did you imagine that you’d be talking about that 50 years later?” Thin, aging, and elegant in his suit, Barbosa shakes his head, “Even after I die, people will blame that goal on me.”
Barbosa’s concern proves prescient, as revealed in Loch Phillips’ film, premiering this week on ESPN’s 30 for 30 Soccer Stories. Fourteen years after his death, the saga of Barbosa’s mistake is recounted by a series of journalists, biographers, and even Ghiggia himself, their memories so similar that their interviews can be edited together as if all one ongoing story. Most obviously, it’s the story of that goal and Barbosa, once considered one of the best goalkeepers in the game, “very good at defending angled balls,” observes Barbosa biographer Bruno Freitas. It is also, more persistently and revealingly, about the beauty and brutality of football.
For the first, the film offers an array of grainy footage, terrific plays by Barbosa and his teammates in a first round win over Mexico, as well as crowds rising and cheering, united and enthralled. Here you see the point, that in Brazil (as elsewhere, certainly), football is the “national religion.” Further, Barbosa submits, like a religion, it “can bless and also condemn.” A familiar metaphor, but still, Barbosa’s condemnation is too much. Yes, he went on to play again, but he was unable to shake the Maracanazo, or “the Maracanã blow.” This for many reasons, including the fact that this World Cup was the first following the break during World War II (the previous World Cup was held in France in 1938, and the still occupied Germany and Japan were disallowed).
Rio appeared then to be an ideal site, beyond those cities still broken and haunted by the war and home to an ambitious, rising “soccer power,” as Geneton Moraes puts it. But the film proposes that this ambition had adverse effects, distracting players with pressure (summed up in a clip of Rio’s mayor Angelo Mendes de Moraes announcing, “I built this stadium as promised. Now do your duty. Win the World Cup”) and provoking fans into a kind of frenzy.
When the game goes your way, such frenzy can be brilliant, elevating players and enhancing national pride. But when it doesn’t, as Barbosa shows, the costs can be dire. Feltas remembers a story Barbosa told him, about a woman who spotted Barbosa in a shop and pointed him out to her child: “Look at him, son. This man made all of Brazil cry.” The film doesn’t get into every detail of Barbosa’s mistreatments by fans and reporters, omitting, for instance, that this black player was harassed by racists. Still, it makes clear the toll taken on the man. Injured before he might have played on the 1954 Brazilian World Cup team, he played for small clubs until he could no longer.
From 30 for 30 Soccer Stories: Mysteries of the Rimet Trophy
After retiring from the game at 42, irony of ironies, Barbosa took a job working on the pools at Maracanã. Here he impressed a coworker with his grace and humility, as well as the sadness he showed when the press came around. While it’s unclear exactly who said what, one lingering story has it that when the BBC hired Barbosa to speak with the 1994 Brazilian World Cup team, he was turned back by coach Mário Zagallo. Journalist Paulo Coelho asks, “Who’s responsible for bringing Barbosa there on the eve of the Brazil-Uruguay game? The press—me!—but he easily fell into the trap and he suffered due to that.” Even in noting an institutional responsibility, this journalist also deflects it, blaming the victim.
As the documentary points out this impulse to hold Barbosa responsible for all that went so wrong, it breaks open as well a broader mythology, a national self-image premised on ongoing suffering and a perpetually elusive redemption. It’s an image that draws from religion, broadly speaking, and also allows for corruption. On one hand, the film contradicts the prevailing view that Barbosa did penniless and alone, arguing that once he moved away from Rio to Praia Grande where he “wasn’t well known” (a bit of a stretch, given the film’s emphasis on his lasting national notoriety), he may have found peace, at least according to Teresa Borba, a friend who here testifies to his resilience, insisting that he did not die penniless and alone, as repeatedly reported.
Still, Barbosa proposes, the Maracanazo has yet to be resolved and Brazil, the nation that made a scapegoat of Barbosa for so long, continues to “lament the defeat in the 1950 World Cup.” Opening with an epigraph from Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodrigues—“Everywhere has its irrevocable national catastrophe, something like a Hiroshima. Our catastrophe, our Hiroshima, was the defeat by Uruguay in 1950”—the film leaves open the future that all viewers are anticipating, namely, the coming World Cup in Rio. While the Brazilian team went on after 1950 to win five Rimet Trophies, the country hasn’t hosted the tournament since that fateful year. If football fans hope one curse may be lifted, another seems emergent, as Rio’s preparations for both the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics—including refurbishing Maracanã and erecting 12 new stadiums—have made visible all manner of corruptions and abuses.
Detailed by Dave Zirin in Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy, these crimes continue to generate protests over wasteful spending and violent pacification of the favelas, undertaken by Brazilian security forces, recently working with the nefarious private militia Academi, formerly Blackwater. As much as the Maracanazo reshaped Barbosa’s life, the larger forces that produced it continue to make Brazil cry.