The Beautiful Game: Linha de Passe

(Brazil, 2008, 113 mins, Blu-ray Disc)
In Portuguese with English subtitles
CAST Sandra Corveloni, João Baldasserini, Vinícius de Oliveira


"Amid the ensemble cast of Walter Salles’s sensationally shot, tough-knocks urban drama one face stands out, the kind of face that owns a film and haunts you long after you’ve seen it.

It’s the face of Dario, who dreams of being a professional footballer. The actor playing him has a ravaged magnetism, just about the worst skin you’ve ever seen, and holds the screen with his hopes and surliness, like Jean-Pierre Léaud in Truffaut’s The 400 Blows.

Then the penny drops. Amazingly, this is Vinícius de Oliveira, whom Salles cast as the orphaned urchin Josué in his breakthrough film Central Station (1998).

He’s scarcely recognisable, and the realisation unleashes a shockwave of empathy, making you wonder what he’s been up to for the past decade, how things are working out. Salles and his co-director Daniela Thomas, who worked together on the 1996 movie Foreign Land, made this follow-up to chart the changes in Brazilian society over the past 10 years. But they hold up no better mirror to these than the pitted and pleading face of this no-longer-boy.

De Oliveira grew up as a wannabe soccer star, too, fatherless, with two brothers. Dario has three, from different fathers, and a mother trying her best, played in the film’s most tender and accomplished performance by Cannes Best Actress-winner Sandra Corveloni.

The template for this oddly lyrical inner-city dirge, with each of the four boys struggling to improve his lot, is Italian neorealism - Visconti’s Rocco and His Brothers, especially - but it is not a nostalgic piece, and, for me, it’s the better film.

The gifted cinematographer Mauro Pinheiro Jr and that master of darkly keening sound-worlds Gustavo Santaolalla play up poverty and loneliness, the yawning despair of São Paulo’s empty highways at night.

The shame and terror of criminal enterprise hits with more force here than the high-octane machismo of other Brazilian hits."

Tim Robey, The Daily Telegraph

"A beguiling blend of urban poetry and extremely well-observed social realism."Wally Hammond, Time Out

"The film’s title refers to the line of players down which the ball is passed when all are playing properly together. It could hardly be more appropriate for a film that confirms that the unflashy virtues of teamwork are as vital in cinema as they are in life."Paul Julian Smith, Sight & Sound