Thursday, 25 September 2008

linha de passe (d. walter salles & daniela thomas; w. thomas & george moura)

What no flip flops? Salles' latest, co-directed film stakes out its intentions to buck the Brazil cliches by setting itself firstly in Sao Paulo, and secondly, in the Winter. The film is composed of four chapters, straightforwardly named after the months June to September, when, in the lower latitudes of Brazil, it gets cold. The film itself appears to have been graded with a muted wash, permeated with whites and greys, deliberately creating an antidote to notions of Brazil as a colour-filled, sun splashed playground. The dourness extends to the casting: the mother of the four boys whose story the film tells, Cleuza, played with fag-smoking chutzpah by Sandra Corveloni, has a hard, masculine face and wears plain clothes. The only real colour in the piece appears to be the bright orange football boots that are given to her eldest son by her employer's kid in exchange for him appearing as a ringer in the rich boys' team.

The films of Salles' I've seen, including Central Station and The Motorcycle Diaries, tend to flavour their portrayals of poverty with a dash of sentimentalism. Personally, I could have lived without Ernesto making his heroic swim across the river at the end of Motorcycle Diaries, and the outrageous beauty of that film's cinematography sometimes seemed to be at odds with the issues it claimed to be addressing. In the end, Salles' Guevara seemed more than suitable for Western consumption, too close to the image that sells everything from bars to T-shirts for comfort. There was an anodyne purity in the portrayal, a far cry from the asthmatic terrorist he was perceived as when alive.

With Linha de Passe it feels as though Salles is doing everything he can to rein his sentimentalism in, (perhaps aided by the input of Thomas?). In a simple but effective piece of storytelling, the narrative follows the fortunes of Cleuza's four sons over the Winter. Without laying on the drama, it tries to show how people living in Sao Paulo's sprawling favelas survive. When Dario goes to register for his football trial and says where he's from, he's asked where that is, to which he replies 'Sao Paulo'. It as though the film is seeking to chart the invisible towns that lurk within the megalopolis. Of the four stories, one ends optimistically, two in crime, and the last with the youngest son driving into an undetermined future. If the narrative is somewhat schematic, with the brothers' fates never overlapping, the film succeeds in immersing itself so thoroughly in their respective stories that it's never in danger of being predictable. The only certainty in the brothers' lives is that, at the end of the night, they will find their way back to the home their mother singlehandly maintains.

Sao Paulo is famous for not being beautiful. Salles and Thomas extract every ounce of this lack of beauty. When Dinho goes to the river to participate in the baptism, it feels like its the first time we've seen a tree in the whole film. The series of random bus fires which fascinate Reginaldo, the youngest brother, contribute to the sense of a perilous man-made environment which the brothers have been born to inhabit. Linha de Passe succeeds in illustrating how people survive in this world, and how they break in it too. It's a doggedly anti-glamorous piece of film-making, and all the more effective for it.

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