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Aug 28, 2011

Pelada

Rating:

I had not previously heard of Pelada, a film handed to me last week by my colleague Mark Lomas - heck, I didn't even know what it meant. Hence, when inserting the DVD, I had not an iota of prejudice ahead of the viewing, no expectations of whether it would be a compelling watch or, instead, 92 minutes I'd never get back. I can gladly reveal it proved to be the former.

A young American couple, Luke Boughen and Gwendolyn Oxenham, both had dreams of 'making it' as professional football/soccer players, of carving out a career from the game. Alas, despite possessing passion and talent, their goals slipped from their grasps. Yet, football, like a drug, continued to course through their veins - they could not shake the feeling of having a ball at one's feet. "It's not easy to quit," remarks Gwendolyn during the opening seconds of the film.

So, Luke, working for a billboard company at the time, and Gwendolyn, an aspiring writer, put their heads together and concocted a plan, a plan to travel the world, visiting 25 countries, to soak up the footballing culture it has to offer. Their facility for doing this would be pelada, and they would document their journey, eventually amounting over 400 hours of footage.

In Brazilian, 'pelada' translates, roughly, as 'naked'; the game stripped back to its unashamedly bare bones. To our English readers, the nearest translation is 'a kick-about': jumpers for goalpoasts. For Americans, it's pick-up soccer. No pristine pitches, no sponsors; no polish. This is the beating heart of football, likely when most were first initiated into the sport's charm and addictive hold. And, as the opening shots unravel, the visual juxtapositions between peladas and commercial football become apparent.

Their first stop is Brazil, where it seems the country's natives play football in their sleep, as well as on the beaches and streets. And it is here that the viewer begins to learn about the true meaning of pelada, and also gain an insight into what drives Luke and Gwendolyn. They meet a young girl, nicknamed 'Ronaldinha', whom is devilishly gifted and has the same aspirations that the American pair had when they were in their tender years. This appears an emotional parallel for Gwendolyn.

And herein is the start of a captivating personal story that runs through the piece alongside the wonder of travelling. From continent to continent, the duo portray the delight of experiencing a new country and culture in the best way possible: by mixing with the locals. Here, football serves as the ice-breaker, the chance for Luke and Gwendolyn to play alongside Bolivians, Argentines, Chinese, Iranians, and more. It demonstrates football's universal language, its ability to bring people to together, not through discourse but by through love of the sport.

This piece is produced in accomplished style. You feel every kick, flick and shoulder barge, while the soundtrack - which to this scribe's delight included a track from We Were Promised Jetpacks - keeps the rhythm beating along. That the footage often relies on the diverse scenery to do the talking is testament to its honesty. You will discover that Luke and Gwendolyn are good footballers, very decent indeed, although contrasting in their styles. It helps that these are likeable people, too, fearless in the face of alien climates, armed with just a football and only on occasion a grasp of the language.

Sometimes, you sit down, fix your eyes on a screen, and a chord is struck - you have an affinity with what the filmmakers are trying to achieve and portray. You don't have to be a football fan to 'get' this hour-and-a-half - for the human, and even at points political and religious, element is enough a draw as any to suck you in. If you are a football fanatic, though, without question you are going to love the journey that Pelada takes you on.

• For information on how to buy Pelada, click here.

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