The story of Carlos Henrique Raposo is so fantastical that it’s hard to believe it’s real. Going by the moniker of ‘Kaiser’, this wannabe footballer with no discernible talent somehow managed to bluff his way through a ‘professional’ career spanning two decades. Not only that, but he can boast stints at Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo and Vasco da Gama – Rio de Janeiro’s traditional big four – as part of a sparkling CV that’s not worth the invisible ink it’s written with.
For context it’s like…well there’s no comparison. Imagine a shaggy-haired Jonathan Wilkes – with far less technical ability – blagging his way onto the books of Manchester United, City, Everton and Liverpool, and successfully feigning injury each time he’s asked to play any actual football. All whilst the likes of Firmino, Pogba, Kevin de Bruyne and Tom Davies are fully aware of the rouse, but cannot help admire his bare-faced chutzpah.
Raposo’s story is brought to life in Rob Smyth’s brilliant Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never To Play Football – a book that exhibits all the verve and skill that its subject never could. In turn, we now have this film of the same name. As thrilling as the written version is (and thrilling is the word as it reads like an Elmore Leonard page-turner), the cinematic release has one key advantage – the 55-year-old Kaiser himself, in all his Tommy Wiseau-with-a-tan glory.
From the outset, this Louis Myles directed film is a stylishly made homage to a man who became a strange kind of legend in his own right. In spite of all his shithousery, Kaiser is seen by many as the ultimate Cariocas, and this documentary certainly leans into the colourful samba stylings of his heyday. A combination of archive footage, superstar interviews, charismatic narration, gloriously trashy 80s pop, and Raposo himself make for a joyous watch.
But that’s not the complete story. Just like Kaiser himself, there is deception afoot. You think you’re viewing a breezy telenovela romp through the life of the absolute bounder who managed to have his cake and pretend to eat it; the ideal watch to ward away the post-World Cup blues. And for the most part you are. It’s highly-entertaining and emotionally unchallenging – right up until the mood changes, and unfiltered truth hits you like a ton of bricks.
As with all thrillers or elaborate heists, it would be unfair to give away any spoilers. That said, when reality eventually bites, this surface-level caper is elevated beyond any expectation. It becomes far more than you were happy for it to be. Once pleasure is met with poignancy, it becomes a truly comprehensive examination of the deeply complicated man. I don’t think it’s giving too much away to disclose there’s even a literal unmasking of sorts.
Kaiser’s life is dream material for any writer or filmmaker, but so unreal and outlandish were his escapades that the real challenge was to create something truly worthy of the man and his legendary myth. Both Smyth’s book and Myles’ film achieve this with wit and aplomb.
To learn more about ‘Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never To Play Football’, including showtimes and how to order the book, visit www.kaiserthefilm.co.uk