Linha de Passe, the second film director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries, Central Station) with Daniela Thomas, follows four young fatherless brothers being raised in Brazil by their mother, who's pregnant with a fifth child she will raise on her own. The film is a follow-up to Foreign Land, which Salles and Thomas made 12 years ago, and like that film, Linha de Passe focuses on youth, movement and change.
Salles and Thomas use the lives of these brothers -- Denis (João Baldasserini), the oldest, who is one of some 300,000 bike couriers transversing the crowded streets of Brazil; Dario (Vínicius de Oliveria), a talented soccer player hoping to use his skill at the game as a path to a better life; Dinho (José Geraldo Rodrigues), who seeks escape by joining an evangelical church; and youngest brother Reginaldo (Kaique de Jesus Santos), who spends his days riding buses around the city, searching for his father.
Salles and Thomas focus on the lives of these brothers to reflect on Brazilian society and the changes that have taken place there in the 12 years since they made Foreign Land. During that time, the dictatorship was overthrown, a president was elected who immediately eliminated funding for the arts, effectively shutting down filmmaking in Brazil for four years, and Brazil's cities, particularly Sao Paulo, where the film is set, grew exponentially with little civic planning or control. Sao Paulo's population has doubled in ten years, creating a culture where jobs are scarce, especially for young people, and for young men like these brothers, growing up in the poor working class, there are few paths out for those who choose not to pursue a life of crime, with soccer and evangelism offering a light at the end of the tunnel for some.
The directors show through their story the lack of choices facing Brazil's young people and its consequent results, but the tone of the film is also hopeful. The brothers are resilient, they are strong, they keep fighting. The title of the film, Linha de Passe, comes from a Brazilian children's game played by four kids, where the object is to kick the ball back and forth without passing it. The four brothers are, figuratively, struggling to keep the ball from dropping, to stay in the game, and to be seen as valued members of society.
Salles weaves the theme of fatherlessness throughout all his films; with some 28% of children in Brazil being raised by single mothers, he and Thomas clearly feel this issue is emblematic of many of the problems facing Brazilian society. Cleuza (Sandra Corveloni), the mother, struggles to raise her sons without paternal guidance. She is often supportive and loving, sometimes exasperated, but always seeking to help her sons find their path through life.
On another level, the film addresses issues of race within Brazilian culture; the youngest brother, Reginaldo, is black, while his brothers are fair-skinned, and his search for his father is very much a search for his own self-identity and a sense of belonging. The character of Reginaldo was based on a true story from Brazil about a 14-year-old boy who rode the buses around Brazil in search of his father, finally stealing a bus one day and leading police on a chase in an effort to gain attention from the father who'd abandoned him.
The characters in the film are always moving, moving ... Denis trekking through the dangerous traffic as a courier, Dario on the soccer field, Dinho in his search for acceptance and salvation within the community of his church, and Reginaldo, endlessly riding the buses. Salles and Thomas evoke motion in the film visually with "guerilla filmmaking" -- they had to shoot much of the film with cameras mounted on motorbikes, weaving in and out of traffic jams to film the bike scenes, and following the motion on the soccer field with handheld cameras.
This gives the film a sense of restlessness, of a constant struggle to swim upstream. Dario, having reached the age of 18, has missed the window of opportunity to move ahead in Brazil's highly competitive junior soccer leagues, and seeks to find a way onto a professional team so that he can keep playing, while Dinho's faith is challenged by a series of events that cause him to question his own path.
Salles and Thomas masterfully portray the issues underlying Brazilian society without being too heavy-handed with the social politics; here are four brothers, they say, and these are their stories. They weave all the pieces together into a coherent fabric that brings the story life and keeps the audience engaged in the lives of these boys and their mothers. We care about them and what happens to them and thus, by extension, come to a better understanding of the issues as a whole.
de Oliveria, who plays Dario, is the only professional actor in the film (he previously starred in Central Station); he trained for four years in the junior soccer league in order to play his role. The rest of the cast are making their feature film debuts, which is quite remarkable when you consider the performances Salles and Thomas elicit from their inexperienced cast.
The directors also chose to staff the film with a young crew; Salles said in the press roundtable interview today that they " wanted the film to reflect the idea of youth and opportunity from the bottom up." In spite of the young crew, or perhaps because Salles and Thomas mentored them so adeptly, the cinematography and editing are first-rate as well. Linha de Passe is a moving, engaging film by directors who know what they have to say and how they want to say it.
The film is part of a larger project; Salles and Thomas plan to follow the changes in Brazilian youth and society at 12 year intervals, making four more films together exploring similar themes. If the next four are as good as Linha de Passe, we have much to look forward to.