Heleno (2011)

‘Heleno’ (2011) an art film mostly off the pitch



Information about Brazilian great Heleno De Freitas is scanty when compared to Garrincha or Pelé. He was born in 1920 and predated Brazil’s success on the world stage. Heleno won no trophies for his club Botafogo, he played in no World Cups, and so there is no film of his play.

While he scored many goals, little can be gleaned about his ability or his impact on the game. Instead, his legend centers around his bad boy behavior, night life, many affairs, and mercurial temperament. His eventual spiral into insanity was brought on by untreated syphilis as well as ether inhalant abuse. He died at the age of 39 after being institutionalized in a psychiatric hospital at 32.

Heleno’s conditions

Like most inconsequential films, its backstory is more interesting. I wondered why Heleno refused treatment for his syphilis. It turns out that penicillin treatment at that time was very new. He would have had to endure 8 days of intramuscular penicillin shots every few hours, and the procedure was so new, a cure was not guaranteed. After the first year of infection, syphilis can be latent for as long as 15 years or even forever and thus not physically apparent.

I also found one article in Portuguese that speculated that Helano was bipolar. All of these factors could explain why he would ignore a syphilitic infection.

It was also interesting to learn that ether abuse started around that time because of Carnaval. As a prank, people would mix ether with perfume and shower others with the ice cold concoction. Ether’s easy availability established it as a mainstay for inhalant abuse amongst Brazil’s impoverished youth, which it remains today along with glue and other chemicals.

Making of the film

Director José Henrique Fonseca chose to create an artsy B&W film, with the star losing 12-28 pounds in order to look sick at the end of the story. But with very little soccer, little sex, or even for that matter, much of a story, it is obvious why, after playing in a bunch of film festivals, the film went straight to DVD and Netflix.

2 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 2