'Linha de passe'

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Twelve years after co-directing "Foreign Land," filmmakers Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas have returned to update their portrait of urban Brazil, which they left in the economic throes of President Fernando Collor. "Linha de passe" is a far more successful film, both as a drama and in depicting the reality of growing up poor without no future in sight.

Using a mainly nonpro cast and a deeply realist style, it relies on a strong screenplay and a hard-driving rhythm to keep viewers interested in the interwoven stories of four brothers and their single mom. Comparisons to Luchino Visconti's "Rocco and His Brothers" are inevitable, but without name actors in the cast, this is not going to be as easy a commercial ride as Salles' cultish "The Motorcycle Diaries."

On the plus side, "Linha de passe" (a soccer term) has a great deal of strength and sincerity going for it, which should attract the kind of audiences who admired the sociological line of "Central Station." Set on the poverty-stricken outskirts of the Sao Paulo megalopolis, it traces one summer in the lives of Cleuza (Sandra Corveloni), a pregnant housemaid, her three teenage sons and her young Reginaldo (Kaique de Jesus Santos), the son of a black bus driver. If you think of this remarkable child actor as the transformed character of a young Alain Delon, you begin to see how radically Visconti's film has been rethought.

Most audiences won't make that connection, of course, but will be caught up in the psychological struggles of the brothers, each battling his own demons. Dario (Vinicius De Oliveira, who played the lead in "Central Station") is a good soccer player who wants to go pro; Dinho (Jose Geraldo Rodrigues) plies the dangerous profession of motorcycle courier on Sao Paulo highways and has a baby with one of his girlfriends. The born-again Christian Denis (Joao Baldasserini), meanwhile, escapes into the unreal optimism of religion, while plucky little Reginaldo rides buses all day and night in search of his unknown father. In this fatherless society, where violence lurks around every corner, brotherhood becomes a path to salvation.

A growing sense of anxiety accompanies the boys as they spin through the cycle of soccer tryouts, work, sex, drugs and robberies against an apocalyptic background of burning buses and stadium mania. While the exciting camerawork stays close to the action, a reflective musical comment pulls viewers back into reflectiveness. The climactic scenes achieve real power as each of the five characters is tested in rapid cutaways, to an ambiguously suspended ending that is still satisfying. Hats off to the fine acting, which is never overstated and renders each family member intensely individual. (partialdiff)
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