Walter Salles returns to Brazilian social realism with “the best football film ever”, says Tom Jennings (with tongue firmly wedged in cheek)
Nils All. Film review – Tom Jennings
Salles reunites with long-term collaborator Thomas in the low-key social realism of early successes Foreign Land (1996) and Central Station (1999), which skilfully knit together narratives of everyday life in portraying the contemporary history of Brazil from the bottom-up. Linha De Passe is therefore an interesting contrast to both the director’s recent films – Behind The Sun’s (2001) intense magical-realist village vendetta, the fluffy tourist portrayal of young Che in Motorcycle Diaries (2004), and the naff Japanese ghost-story remake Dark Water (2005) – as well as lurid contemporary stylisations of ‘favela chic’ in City of God (Fernando Meirelles, 2002), City of Men (Paolo Morelli, 2007), and Elite Squad (Jose Padilha, 2008). The new release combines true-life scenarios, sophisticated construction, inspired cinematography and editing, and sympathetic casting and direction to avoid the overblown grandiosity and simplistic social stasis of these other films, while exploring individuality and collectivity via twin metaphors of family and football to illuminate with great humility social complexity and potential. Moreover the title has several ‘beautiful game’ connotations – from ‘keepy-uppy’ and developing teamwork to a wider philosophy of transcendence – but a resolute refusal of ‘Roy of the Rovers’ cliches make this, to my mind, the best football film ever.
Single-matriarch cleaner Cleuza (a majestic Sandra Corveloni, best actress winner at Cannes) is pregnant by a fifth different absent father after another escape into drunken delirious fandom. She struggles to hold together four sons in a decrepit concrete shanty in Sao Paolo: Dario’s neighbourhood ball-playing genius, at eighteen too old to break into the minor leagues; Dinis’ womanising motorcycle courier, already with a child he can’t support, turns to violent car-crime; Dinho’s petrol-pump jockey looks to evangelical religion; and Reginaldo, the youngest, truants on local buses searching for his Black father. The petty filial conflicts and fierce loyalty, oscillating between selfishness, spite and big-heartedness, of these young working-class men with few prospects beyond endless drudgery – but still varying measures of agency – are seamlessly interwoven so as to deny neither crushing frustration nor the stubborn intelligence, resourcefulness and determination of lower-class life. A homage to the Italian neorealist classic Rocco and His Brothers (Luchino Visconti, 1960), Linha De Passe thus trumps its negativity – though the fairytale denouement of Dario getting a break and scoring the winning goal is hedged with cautionary suspicion that the pervasive corruption of the sport’s institutions will smother him. Meanwhile Cleuza gives birth screaming, Dinis decides he can’t hack wrecking people’s lives, Dinho assaults his boss, and diminutive Reginaldo drives away a bus in search of past, present and future ...
Film review published in Freedom, Vol. 69, No. 20, November 2008.
For other reviews and essays by Tom Jennings, see: