Sunday, April 22, 2018

Tribeca ’18: Kaiser, the Greatest Footballer Never to Play Football

They take football seriously in Brazil, maybe even more so than music. That is why the picaresque story of Carlos Enrique Raposo (a.k.a. Carlos “Kaiser”) is so amazing. He was more of con artist than an athlete, who essentially defrauded the bicheiros (numbers-running gangsters) that apparently ran Brazil’s professional club teams. Somehow, he lived to talk about it in Louis Myles’ breezy documentary-romp, Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never to Play Football, which screens during the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.

Rio, with its nightclubs and beaches, was tailor-made for Raposo. He is still recognized when he strolls along their wavy sidewalks, even though he literally never logged a second of professional playing time. When it came to football, the man dubbed “Kaiser” (as in the German Emperor) had terrible skills, but he was always in great shape and bore a convenient resemblance to superstar player Franz Beckenbauer.

Through deceit and chutzpah, Raposo managed to get signed to a thoroughly mobbed-up Corsican pro-team. He easily passed his physical, but then immediately feigned an injury. Despite his lack of productivity, Kaiser managed to maintain his contract by cozying up to one of the team’s most-connected executives. Eventually, he was cut, but he was able to repeat the cycle, because he had a stint with a pro team on his resume. The more teams he did not play for, the more legit he looked on paper. However, things started getting dicey when “Dr.” Castor de Andrade, the notorious bicheiro patron of the Bangu club finally ran out of patience.

Raposo’s story is a lot like that of Frank Abignale, Jr. in Catch Me If You Can, but it is more hedonistic and has better music. Clearly, Kaiser managed to hang on as long as he did, at so many clubs, because he could always start a party. Even Beckenbauer found himself vicariously indulging through his roguish pseudo-impostor.

Kaiser is mostly a great deal of naughty fun laced with episodes of head-shaking audacity, but it eventually gets serious in the third act. Alas, Raposo could not avoid real life indefinitely, but he has had a heck of a ride. Frankly, the film has the vibe of a guilty pleasure, but it also serves as quite a bold expose of the rough & tumble Brazilian football world in the 1980s and 1990s. Raposo never hurt a fly, which is why most of his “teammates” still have a great deal of affection for him (he also brought a lot of women around). On the other hand, the bicheiros were seriously bad cats.

Kaiser goes down as smooth as an ice coffee on an Ipanema beach. Myles keeps the pace at a brisk gallop and the diverse Brazilian soundtrack puts viewers in an after-hours-party frame-of-mind. He also scores some dishy and droll interviews with the survivors of the eighties and nineties Brazilian football scene. Even if you do not follow international football, you will be hard pressed to find a more entertaining documentary. Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates Brazilian culture or a good con, Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never to Play Football screens again today (4/22), tomorrow (4/23) and Saturday (4/28), as part of this year’s Tribeca.