Linha de Passe is a harsh, and often quite depressing film so don't expect instant gratification here. But do not be put off experiencing what is an exceptional film.
Linha de Passe rejects the glamorised violence of the spate of films based in Rio that have followed City of God such as City of Men and Elite Squad.
To put it simply City of God was cool, and very stylised, with lots of interesting shots and techniques that often made it look like a music video, oh and of course the funk soundtrack.
Linha on the other hand is real; shot more like a documentary, where the camera is merely an observer of life.
Although the two films share a number of key details such as both being "favela porn" – a get-in-close look at the harsh lives of Brazil's poor from the comfort of a cinema seat, the feel of the two films could not be more different.
Instead Linha has far more in common with the general trend in Latin American film for realism, and is similar in terms of look and feel, to Alejandro González Iñárritu's brilliant Amores Perros set in gritty Mexico City.
In an interview, Linha’s co-director Walter Salles – who achieved international fame in 2004 with The Motorcycle Diaries – gave a hint as to why. The setting for Linha is São Paulo, Brazil's largest city, rather than Rio it's more flashy cousin. "São Paulo is huge.” he told a journalist at Cannes. “There's no escape from it, like in Rio, where there's the sea. “São Paulo is overwhelming – its streets, underpasses, new neighborhoods and constant growth."
The flavour of São Paulo is represented so strongly that the city often feels like the film's sixth character.
The main human characters are four brothers, Dario, Denis and Dinho all in their late teens and Reginaldo, the younger one, alongside their long-suffering mother Cleuva. Their story is based on real stories from São Paulo that have been integrated into a single screenplay.
All four brothers are attempting to find a way out of their situation of poverty via different means.
The stories of the four brothers are often interspersed with one another which at times is incredibly funny when for example the film cuts between each boys night out, with Denis having sex with a girl from his work, Dinho the religious brother masturbating over said girl, Reginaldo breaking into a bus garage to spend the night sleeping on a São Paulo bus and Dario walking home a little worse for wear along a deserted motorway alone after taking a mix of cocaine, ecstasy and viagra.
Dario tries desperately to get signed on a professional football contract. Despite possessing the talent, numerous obstacles are placed in his way and he realises he can only make it dishonestly.
Dinho seeks escape from his past life of crime, alluded to by other characters, through the salvation of christianity, becoming a key figure in his local church.
Denis on the other hand wants only to get the cash he needs to sleep with Glória and so turns to crime. A hilarious moment comes when he acquires his mother a stolen designer handbag. She is overjoyed until she finds in one of the pockets the ID of its former owner.
Despite Reginaldo providing much of the comic relief – such as when told by his older brother to "piss off and go back to watching cartoons" he replies defiantly "I was watching porn actually" – he has one of the most painful situations of all the brothers. He is the only one of the brother's fathered by a black man and so feels like an outsider in his only family. He knows only that his father was a city bus driver and so bunks school to ride the buses, so that he can spend time with the man he believes to be his dad. This also explains why he runs away at nights to sleep in the bus garage.
More than merely looking for an escape from poverty all the boys are attempting to deal with being fatherless, and Salles has said he believes there "is a chronic absence of the father in Brazil". In the course of the film the boys all acquire ersatz fathers: the bus driver, the pastor, Dario's football coach for example.
But it is the strength of the boy's mother Clueva (Sandra Corveloni) who holds the family together declaring "I'm both the father and mother of all of you." Corveloni's performance is excellent, and she was rightly awarded the best actress's prize at this years Cannes Film Festival.
Despite Vinícius de Oliveira, as Dario, being the only other professional actor – the rest are local people – the performances are all exceptional. The documentary and voyeuristic style means that the film is carried on the strength of the acting and there are no doubts this approach has worked perfectly.
All the actors and each strand of the film come together to complement one another perfectly and present a highly powerful albeit saddening story of life in São Paulo's slums. The ever-present touches of black humour, however, help diminish the sadness of the film.
The skill with which the film is constructed also serves to limit its depressing effects, as you leave the cinema with a profound respect for the quality and purity of the film's portrayal of an albeit undeniably depressing existence in Brazil's slums.