Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never To Play Football

Directed by Louis Myles 2018
July 31, 2018

The Carlos Kaiser story probably endures because it relied so much on good faith and, in a lot of cases, naivety. It’s charming. In 2018, the notion of a person maintaining a 26-year career in professional football without possessing any discernible ability is preposterous; Google, YouTube and the rolling news cycle would surely make it an impossibility.

But this was Brazil, this was the 1980s, and now – courtesy of this documentary – the tale can be told in proper detail.

One of the issues the filmmakers presumably faced was how to bring a story built on myth and hearsay to life. Kaiser’s exploits are legendary – the implausible deceptions, the women, the cast of world-class players who were charmed by him – but, as with anybody who deals in confidence, it’s difficult to know where the line between truth and fantasy actually occurs.

The film is a triumph because it doesn’t try too hard to draw that line. Principally an eyebrows-up exploration of Kaiser’s white lies, it doesn’t dwell on the morality of his life too much. Nor should it, either, because the dozen or so interviewees (including the late Carlos Alberto, Renato Gaucho, and World Cup-winner Bebeto) barely have a bad word to say about him. Almost universally, it seems, he was loved – a figure of entertainment and fun, someone living a dream which nobody quite had the heart to end.

There is another half to the story, though. As the man himself will say, there is a division between the well-known character and the man behind it. So, while most of the film centres on Kaiser’s exploits, there is also some exploration of the human condition at their root; it’s very touching, actually, and will leave audiences recognising that – yes – Carlos Kaiser is absolutely a rogue, but what harm did he actually do and what is the emotional legacy of his having led this kind of life.

Tone is really important with this kind of film. Obviously. Perhaps the greatest triumph, then, is that Kaiser’s life story is told with a great sense of fun. It’s presented as mischief rather than anything more sinister and that’s absolutely appropriate. Add in the usual flourishes of Brazilian culture and the gorgeous scene-filling shots of Rio, and you have something which captures the spirit with which much of football’s greatest confidence trick was probably intended.

Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never To Play Football is released on July 29th.

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