FC Reviews: Looking for Rio


Even leaving aside all the debate about its legacy as a World Cup, it's certainly arguable that there has never been a true football party like Brazil 2014. To walk down the Copacabana on any given night during the tournament - - and especially during the group stage -- was to experience what the event is supposed to be about. In the vast communal setting of an open beach, amid perfect conditions, supporters from so many nations -- including those who did not qualify -- celebrated together in what may be the only genuinely global party.

It was a perfect scene, in the perfect location. This, after all, was not just what the World Cup is supposed to be about. It is what Brazil is supposed to be about.

That is also, of course, something of an illusion; Brazil's image is something of an idealised myth.

As such, it was rather curious to walk around the same areas of Rio in the days after the final -- as it is in any country in the immediate aftermath of hosting such a tournament. The crowds had started to fade, the fan zone was being dismantled, and even the weather seemed to be getting a little windier.

This was a city getting back to normal, getting back to real life and to its true self.

As to what that is, it was a question that former Manchester United and France striker Eric Cantona had already asked with creditable depth.

Although his one-hour documentary "Looking for Rio" -- which he directed and presents -- was effectively made to coincide for the World Cup, it is all more meaningful because it attempts to explore the city's historic relationship with football in ways beyond the temporary staging of the event, and finds that some of the tournament's issues echo through the past.

The protests before Brazil 2014 may gain considerable attention from Cantona, and provoke a lot of his most searching questions, but the enigmatic Frenchman shows that the "official" inclusivity of a sport as otherwise commonly loved as football has never been clear-cut.

One of the most powerful scenes in the documentary comes when Cantona is tracing the development of Rio's four main clubs -- Fluminense, Vasco da Gama, Flamengo and Botafogo. Vasco won their first major championship in 1923, with a team that was uniquely made up of people from multiple ethnic backgrounds and social classes

The other clubs were unwilling to make such leaps, and sought to restrict their competition to white players by setting up the Metropolitan Athletic Association. Vasco were prohibited from participating until they complied with the racist regulations.

Their president Jose Augusto Prestes utterly refused, and in response sent what has become known as the "Historic Answer." His club would continue to pick players from any background.

The stance was influential in ensuring Rio football's racial barriers soon fell, but others remained.

Cantona explores all of this by visiting an impressive array of areas around the city -- from the Maracana to the favelas nearby -- and talking to a huge variety of people, from former and current players to sociologists and journalists.

Indeed, the only person he doesn't seem to talk to is Pele, which may or not be pointed. Romario is one of the most impressive speakers, as the footballer-turned-politician discusses the economic and social cost of the sport that made him famous.

Amid all of this, there is also Cantona's own unmistakeable charisma. The way in which he sparingly uses words serves a real purpose here, as everyone is allowed to talk at length, and there is space to ruminate on the many issues brought up by the documentary. Cantona similarly refuses to make any firm judgements himself, and doesn't offer his own answer to one of the documentary's key questions -- whether staging a World Cup allows Rio to sideline its issues, or whether the World Cup throws further light on them.

As one of the first of a planned series of documentaries with Cantona's brothers Joel and Jean-Marie, "Looking for Rio" still occasionally seems like a nascent effort and is far from perfect, but does offer a fine viewpoint of the city and one of its dominant cultures.