Adrin Neatrour writes:Everyman as nowheremanLinha de Passe Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas – Brazil – 2008;
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 30 Sept 08 Ticket price £6-80
Everyman as nowhereman
With Linha de Passe (LP) Salles and Thomas have produced a curiously ineffectual and anodyne movie. LP is based on the idea of threading together five separate stories of one slum dwelling family. Each story leads to a moment of epiphany or revelatory realisation. Where Salles and Thomas falter is in the creation of a filmic world of the slum in which their characters can move. The consequence is a movie that is possessed by a sense of emptiness, in which meaning depends on the audience filling in background and making connections that only exist symbolically on the screen.
For the individuals and their stories to carry the weight of authenticity(why else unless your name is the Disney Corporation, film a story about poor slum people?) the film would have express something of the palpable nature of the compressive forces exerting pressure on the individuals in this environment. A place which has moulded them and encompasses the horizon of their vision. Bunuel’s Los Olvidados is one obvious example in which the texture and weight of the inner city shanty works as a defining force on the characters and permeates their stories. The environment in Los Olvidados doesn’t delimit but it is elemental to the filmic project: the closeness of man and beast, the closeness of man to man, the bounded nature of the individual’s perception. This sense of world is weak in LP. Sao Paulo is depicted rather than experienced. It is understood more as a background against which the stories unravel, not a milieu in which they take place. From time to time LP cuts to very wide establishment shots of the city which we see splayed out in its vastness. But it’s as if Salles and Thomas were unable to figure out any other way of signing to their audience that their stories are actually linked to this city other than by this iconography.
Without a world to contain them, the five stories in LP are detached from any source and float in bubbles of a discrete internalised relevance. The effect is for the individuals in the stories to lose the very singularity which place lends body and psyche to form character. The characters in LP come across as individuals who are construed as modern types. They are reduced to being examples of urban slum stereotypes: defined by religion, race, sport, motorbike unending serial pregnancies. The characters become sort of anyperson anywhere. The perfect human counterpart to the modern development of urban space which from city to city is anyspace whatever anywhere: the mall the skyscraper, the contemporary piazza the inner city highway with its decks ramps tunnels and bridges. Now we have anystereotype whatsoever fitted out in jacket trainers and jeans. The trouble is decontextualised types can generate interest only through their doings.
It is possible that Salles and Thomas are trying to communicate this observation to us and have developed LP as an expression of the characterless nature of the modern. No one is singular space and time: there is only anyone anywhere; there are no stories just general patterns. But if this is the point and intent of the LP, then it lacks wit and intensity of vision in its communication. To make their points, in relation to their stories, the ultimate expressive recourse of Salles and Thomas is the mordant sentimentality of the soap opera rather than structural rigour and intelligence.
The recurring image: the mother attacks her blocked kitchen sink with a rubber suctioned plunger. An ineffectual remedy for a deeper malaise; a shot that repeated half a dozen times exemplifies the poverty not of the woman’s resources, but rather of the film’s thinking. It feels as if the film makers wanted this shot to work as a sort of metaphor, saying that underneath what you see in LP there is a compressed solid of rotting matter that blocks anything that tries to flow away. And now I understand why LP is so ineffectual. Metaphor and the metaphoric replace the actual: and the film is the poorer for it because the viewer is given a symbolic interplay of filmic material that invites the audience to invent an interpretive schema to understand what they see. In LP impression is favoured over expression as the film’s currency. The problem is that everything in LP slides inexorably towards the disaster area of metaphor as the film lurches towards the interpretative and everything comes to stand in for something other than what it is: the buses, the sink, football, Episcopal religion, the motor bike the pregnancy.
In making LP Salles and Thomas have chosen to structure the film using linkages of a conventional classical Hollywood manner. The sensory motor linkages within and between the stories are charcterised by conventionally shot and edited images: action, perception and affection images. Use of images which build a conventional form of relational narrative dynamic, a dynamic that fosters the idea of continuities and the consequent interpretation of those continuities. In creating filmic worlds that represent particular moulding and encompassing environments (such as the slum or the monastery) it is in fact the discontinuities that comprise the strongest formal elements of expression, discontinuities of both sound and vision that pitch the characters and the audience into an expressive world of compelling signs. Interthreading 5 stories does not create discontinuities it simply gives an unending supply of editing points and invites the viewers to create an interpretative schema for understanding what they have viewed.
LP seems to have been produced the wrong way about. The project looks like it started with the question of how five stories could be inserted in the slum milieu of Sao Paulo, rather than asking how the milieu might surrender its secrets in the form of the wondrous characters that haunt its streets.