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Cannes 08: Walter Salles on “Linha de Passe”

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05182008_linhadepasse1.jpgBy Erica Abeel

The abiding humanism we’ve come to expect from Walter Salles is abundantly present in “Linha de Passe,” his luminous competition entry in this year’s Cannes. Co-directed with Daniela Thomas, the film explores the Brazilian underclass through the lives of four brothers who live with their mother on the outskirts of teeming São Paulo. But though the family leads a hardscrabble life in an unforgiving milieu, “Linha” is no “City of God.” The brothers may skirt violence and crime, yet they struggle to reinvent themselves, continuing to search, however misguidedly, for a way to rise above their circumstances.

One son (Vinícius de Oliveira from Salles’s “Central Station,” sole actor in a cast of non-pros) hopes to use soccer as his ticket out. A second braves the mockery of friends and family to embrace religion and assist a local pastor. Touchingly, the youngest boy, fathered by a black bus-driver, becomes obsessed with learning to drive a city bus. The matriarch — a sort of Latin Mother Courage — is middle-aged, worn, and, shockingly, pregnant, yet she manages to support the family as a housekeeper and hews to her own brand of morality.

Shot in a breathless quasi-documentary style and often indifferently lit, “Linha” alternates close-ups with rocketing rides down São Paulo’s jammed roadways. There’s a sometimes uneasy mix of lyricism — conveyed through the repeated motif of raised hands — and gritty realism. Unlikely to do the boffo business of “The Motorcycle Diaries,” “Linha” is nonetheless an inspiriting installment in Salles’s ongoing examination of Brazil.

To what extent are the characters in “Linha de Passe” drawn from real life?

05182008_linhadepasse2.jpgGenerally, the film’s based on real stories that we’ve integrated into a single story. For instance, Reginaldo [the youngest son] was inspired by a real life story in Brazil: a fourteen-year-old boy went searching for his father, knowing only that he was a bus driver. The boy ended up driving a bus for three hours before getting stopped.

How did you share the directing with Daniela Thomas?

We just did it, I can’t really define how. Because we’re two, we become ten or twenty. The film is a team effort. There’s also lots of discussion with the crew and actors — things are up for grabs. We’ve tried to return to the concept of film as a collective adventure, enriched by different perspectives. When I shoot with Daniela the result is harsher, grittier than if I were alone. It becomes more immediate with her on board. There’s a dialectic, everything’s shared, made with four hands. What I like about making a four-handed film is that it fosters the possibility of destabilization.

How much of “Linha de Passe” was improvised?

We didn’t block the actors — the camera serves them. And there was constant improvisation — at least twenty percent was not written. The actors had a lot of freedom in their gestures, action and language, which is very interesting.

Elsewhere you’ve stated that through film, you’d like to periodically take the pulse of life in Brazil. Is there a recurring theme?

Yes, there’s a chronic absence of the father in Brazil — 25 percent are absent from the family. Women who run the family are a moral force. In the film there are ersatz fathers: the pastor, the bus driver, the trainer. But the mother in “Linha” says something very telling to her son: “I’m both the father and mother of all of you.” That’s also true for me and Daniela!

05182008_linhadepasse3.jpgIt seems as if São Paulo is almost a 6th character in “Linha de Passe.” Could you explain how the city is used in the film?

São Paulo is huge. 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. It’s like a city at the end of the world. We dove into the city’s outskirts. We knew where the family lived, which buses they took. The characters lived together in the house where we shot the film

There are many intersecting stories in the film. What was your organizing principle?

We saw the script not only as a single dramatic structure, but as about characters who dive into each other. In the editing room we tried different ways of breaking up the scenes, but in the final montage we returned to our original vision. It’s a dysfunctional family, a family in collision. But there’s also a deep connection between them. This film goes in search of that connection, in search of that fraternity. You can’t romanticize Brazil. What you can do is make a film that includes violence, yet rejects it. The fact is 90 percent of Brazilians try to surmount violence. I wanted to make a film, for once, that portrays Brazil as a place where people want to find a way out.

[Photos: “Linha de Passe”; director Walter Salles – Pathé Pictures International, 2008]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

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Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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