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Review: ‘Sunday Ball’ captures the spirit of soccer and so much more in a poor Brazilian neighborhood

An image of Rafael Dias from the movie "Sunday Ball."
(Cinema Slate)

Eryk Rocha’s soccer documentary, “Sunday Ball,” offers an impressionistic, colorful look at a tournament played in some of Rio de Janeiro’s poorest neighborhoods. Though almost entirely devoid of facts and figures, the film represents the best kind of cinematic journalism — more like a live-action painting than an ESPN special.

After some brief on-screen text explaining the structure of the favela championship, Rocha cuts to quiet shots of a groundskeeper chalking off an expanse of weeds and dirt. Then the final match starts, and “Sunday Ball” dashes ahead.

Rocha doesn’t really explain what happens in the game, though in just over an hour he catches a lot of action by dropping audiences right into the middle of jostling bodies. He also spends time on the sidelines, where fans shield their eyes against dirt-clouds while cheering on their squads.

“Sunday Ball” is dotted with anthropological detail: the celebratory gunshots in the background, the coaches’ fiery strategy sessions and the chanting of Catholic prayers as a pregame ritual.

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Even viewers who know nothing about soccer can enjoy how Rocha captures the beauty of a communal event through editing and shot selection alone. Even when he films the penalty kicks that decide the game, Rocha skips the goals and shows the reaction, understanding that there is poetry in people’s joy.

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“Sunday Ball”

Not rated. In Portuguese with English subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 9 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.


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