Dir: Walter Salles, Daniela Thomas. Brazil-France. 2008. 108 mins.
Solid and involving, if hardly ground-breaking, Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas’s Linha de Passe is a complex and gritty drama about a working-class family’s struggles in the streets and on the football fields of soccer-crazy Sao Paolo. Reunited with his co-director on 1996’s Foreign Land, Salles offers a well-knit multi-strander that vividly evokes the rigours of keeping body and soul together in Brazil’s biggest city, while offering a down-to-earth alternative to the more romantic and stylistically flashy films (City of God, Lower City, Berlin winner Elite Squad) with which Brazilian cinema has been identified lately.
Very much in the mode of Salles’ 1998 breakthrough Central Station, Linha de Passe offers a compelling cast and a narrative fail-safe - the travails of a tough mum and her unruly brood - that should give it modest but significant international appeal.
Set over four months, the story follows the family of Cleuza (Corveloni), a middle-aged single mother with four sons already and one more on the way. Three of the boys are on the verge of adulthood. Dario (de Oliveira, from Central Station) is a talented footballer yearning for his big break, but held back by the fact that at 18, he’s already too old to be considered a fresh new talent. Denis (Baldasserini) is a cheerful womaniser with a girlfriend and baby son on the
side, who plies a perilous trade as motorbike messenger. And Dinho (Rodrigues), a fervent Pentecostal Christian, keeps his head down working at a gas station. Odd son out is the younger Reginaldo (Santos), a mixed-race boy who’s become obsessed with the father he’s never known, a black bus driver.
The narrative takes us inexorably towards the four sons’ moments of truth, some more plausible than others. The son who has the most explosive crisis is the one we least expect it of - which itself makes for a kind of inverted predictability. Salles, Thomas and their co-writers skilfully juggle the various narrative balls, although the pace eventually slackens and we find
ourselves impatient for the climax of each strand. In this sense, Gustavo Santaolalla’s moody score somewhat works against the film, overstating from the start a sense of tragic inevitability. It should be said that, though, that tough as things get, the film’s open ending feels humanistic and merciful towards its characters, rather than suggesting a cop-out.
Without overstating the grimness of Brazilian working-class life, the film evokes a hardscrabble existence in which opportunities are precarious and must be paid for: Dario eventually gets his shot at the big time, but palms have to be greased. The sheer hustle of Sao Paolo comes across vitally in the traffic scenes, with Denis risking his neck - and eventually others’ - on the city highways. Brazil ‘s polarity between rich and poor is subtly handled in the scenes set in the household where Cleuza works as a maid.
Above all, the film comes across as a film about religion - that is, Brazil ‘s true religion of football. Salles and Thomas use on-field action to urgent effect, notably in the opening scenes, where Cleuza roots for her team. The film’s title refers to a football pitch marking - alluding, no doubt, to the lines that everyone in the story has to observe or cross.
Mauro Pinheiro’s photography brings out the everyday grittiness of a grey working city. A strong cast emotes and agonises discreetly, the actors playing the older sons giving their roles various winning shades of callow desperation. But it’s Santos, looking somewhat younger than his 15 years, who steals the show with his spiky exuberance, even managing to carry off Reginaldo’s final moment of glory.
Pathe Intern ational
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Mauricio Andrade Ramos
Director of photography
Mauro Pinheiro Jr
Valdy Lopez Jr
Vinicius de Oliveira
Jose Geraldo Rodrigues
Kaique de Jesus Santos