Guns, gangs, drugs, and death by a thousand fast cuts; ever since City of God that’s what we’ve come to expect when we hear the words Brazilian cinema. Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas’s favela-drama, Linha de Passe, contains few of these elements and is all the more powerful for it.
The story of four brothers and their pregnant mother living at the bottom of the ladder in Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo, it tells of the various ways they strive to survive and hopefully transcend their fates in this hugely divided and disparate place.
In the hands of less subtle and confident co-directors the plotlines, particularly that of Dario (Vinicius de Oliveira) the talented player struggling to get selected in the dog eat dog world of Brazilian soccer, could easily have been turned into melodramas or trite morality plays. Instead, with its low key performances and realistic dialogue Linha de Passe presents us with a wholly believable slice of life.
As with all multi-character dramas it faces the difficulty of allowing each strand to breathe without cutting the oxygen off from the rest. By concentrating possibly too much of the screen time on the obviously cinematic, appeal of Dario’s struggles the other plotlines occasionally feel under-developed. Those of Dinho (Jose Geraldo Rodriques), the former tearaway seeking redemption through Jesus and the young Reginaldo (Kaique Jesus Santos) on a quest to find his bus driver father seem fully fleshed out but less room is left for the stories of the mother (Sandra Corveloni) and eldest brother (Joao Baldasserini).
The performances are uniformly excellent. Sandra Corveloni (who won Best Actress at Cannes) makes you believe she has earned every line on her prematurely aged face and Kaique Jesus Santo is particularly outstanding managing to convey, with relatively little dialogue, the pain of being an outsider in a family of outsiders.
This is not a film for those with short attention spans it plays much the same way the Brazilians play football, it builds from the back and then bursts out showing flashes of brilliance. The haunting ending in particular will stay in the memory long after the lights have gone up.
Review by Neil McEwan