Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never to Play Football (2018)

‘Kaiser’ (2018) perpetuates a lad’s fantasy

Imagine you’re at WC 2014 in Brazil, and you hear this great story about a legendary local lothario. Known as Kaiser, Carlos Henrique Raposo pretended to be a pro footballer and lived the life for over 20 years. He slept with thousands of women, conning the ladies, owners, and coaches, while cleverly avoiding ever getting on the pitch. 

Kaiser is an estafador, farsante, malandro, and a 171 (respectively: a swindler, phony, scalawag and fraudster). Imagine you’re putting together this lad’s fantasy of a story in time for the next WC, and then #MeToo happens. #FakeNews becomes a poison. People no longer laugh at liars, and instead, whether you support them or believe them becomes a deep dividing line in society.

So if you are Writer-Director Louis Myles and producer Tom Markham, you try to solve this positioning problem by using the first half of the film to set the scene and the context. You show that, well, in the pounding 1980s of sexy Rio de Janeiro, this is what men did. To excel at womanizing made you special then, and to have successfully cheated team owners/mafia should now, in retrospect, anoint you as a Robin Hood.

About a third of the film shows the various ways Kaiser perpetrated his fraud with coaches and team owners. He ingratiated himself with them and pretty much everyone else: players, fans, ball boys and media. His modus operandi was to befriend a big name player, use that as a chance to tryout, and then hang on for a few months by feigning injury, pimping, or other fabrications. Myles does a great job of recreating the fairytale.

The filmmakers interviewed over 70 people to try to confirm Kaiser’s stories. Almost all of the interviewees seem to have been in on the con and appear to be very accepting of a positive, enthusiastic guy who was fun to be around and knew how to party. But at the same time, none of them seem to know the whole truth.

Sorry, no redemption

In the end, the filmmakers get Kaiser, now in his fifties, to tearfully claim that he didn’t hurt anyone and didn’t steal from anyone. If anything, he’s the victim, and his schemes helped him escape from the sorrowful life he was born into.

It could be a redeeming moment, but I found his tears, and most of his stories, not quite believable. There may be truths in all the events, but as they say in the film, if you tell a lie four times, it becomes a fact. 

Even the filmmakers aren’t sure what’s true

In Hydall Codeen’s interview for Vice, the filmmakers shared plenty of their own doubt about the story that they assembled. Jon Boon’s article for The Sun reveals a lot of background on the making of the film. But google the many reports about Kaiser, starting in  2011, when he first started doing interviews promoting his accomplishments. There are many conflicting reports on where he played and when. The former Kaiser Magazine (no relation) published this infographic on his supposed club contracts. 

Teams of Carlos Henrique Raposo, per Kevin Dominguez, Kaiser Magazine
Teams of Carlos Henrique Raposo per Kevin Dominguez, Kaiser Magazine

The world needs different heroes

When there is so much bad data, as a scientist, I have to throw out the whole project. Even documentary narrator Bernardo de Paula turns out to be an American actor with a fake Brazilian accent. 

The filmmakers obviously put in a lot of work to make an engaging film for young men to watch; like other documentaries, it took several years and 7 trips to Brazil. But the film’s timing is perhaps unlucky and now anachronistic. When a lad’s fantasy gets this much press, it’s a reminder of how far the world hasn’t advanced. But perhaps it makes sense that the film comes from the people behind the video game Football Manager. There is also an accompanying book by author Rob Smyth.

There are plenty of real-life scalawags who lie and yet run countries as well as FIFA. There’s no need for the film industry to fashion an anti-hero out of a guy who made his living by pimping women for footballers and owners, and managing access to celebrities. 

Anyhow, it feels appropriate to post this review on Mother’s Day.

5 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 5