’Tis the season for tears | The extraordinary, untold story of Marta Vieira da Silva

The Swedish documentary, reported by Björn Nordling and photographed by Mattias Pettersson, opens with the blond interlopers seeking Marta by automobile on the semi-arid ground spotted with caatinga, the forest of thorns that shows as white in satellite images. In the midst of hard, colored earth, bare land is commandeered, lines drawn, goal nets erected, and soon Marta is joking with and watching players from Centro Sportivo Alagoano, with whom she started her career. There is no grass. A public-address announcer’s voice—cries of gol—blasts from coned speakers atop a white van.

At other moments Marta, accompanied by Astrud Gilberto‘s “Beach Samba,” plays futebol de salão, or futsal, on a hard court. The footage recalls the grainy home movies of Ronaldinho, aired as part of an advertising campaign during last summer’s World Cup, playing the small-ball, small-sided variant of feints and ball trickery, in which the sole and heel are as important as the instep. For innumerable Brazilian players, futsal has helped develop close control and technical skills. For women, futsal sometimes offers the only chance to play the national game.

Capoeira is described as conversation between two players. “After two minutes of physical parry,” writes Paula Bock in a 2005 Seattle Times report (“Master of Brazilian Dance Has Come a Long Way,” 14 Nov 05), “you know more about strangers than if you’d talked with them for a half hour at a party.” (Centro de Capoeira Beija-Flor, São Paulo)

Also in the SVT documentary, Marta attempts a brief roda, the circle that forms the basis of the Brazilian martial art capoeira, with countrywoman and Umeå teammate Elaine. Marta demonstrates knowledge of these traditional cultural forms, playing guitar during a documentary outtake and singing a ballad in Portuguese (see excerpt at the SVT website). Capoeira, seen as a fusion of music, dance and self-expression prefiguring the Brazilian attraction to futebol arte, developed within Afro-Brazilian slave societies, nurtured in particular in the Northeast within breakaway communes (quilombos) beginning in the 17th century. Banned by Brazilian authorities late in the 19th century, capoeira eventually returned and attracted a spiritual following. Modern-day academies in Brazil and elsewhere emphasize the art’s place in personal transformation and in helping practitioners to take a more active role in life.

“Sometimes some students come to class, they didn’t even say hi,” says Mestre Curisco, organizer of a Seattle academy. “You gotta try to get them into a conversation. Sometimes they need a little more love, attention, like a friend. … You gotta express yourself.”

Whether Marta sought expression through these pursuits, or whether they were passed to her as part of daily life, is not known. She has said that she began playing football naturally, not as a conscious decision (“Marta Blends Speed and Technique,” FIFA.com, 29 Nov 06). One wonders how she would have fared in Dois Riachos had she not been brilliant—better than the boys and men in her age group—at her game. Economic and educational opportunities are limited. The land hoarding of the colonial-era latifúndio system has yet to be fully addressed by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, himself from a neighboring state, Pernambuco, to the north.

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