Central Station
(Central do Brasil)

             Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a flowering
     in the Brazilian film industry marked by the emergence of such directors
     as Bruno Barreto and Hector Babenco. Perhaps as the century winds down
     we are on the verge of new crop of filmmakers, led by Walter Salles.
     A documentary movie maker who turned to fiction films with 1990's
       A GRANDE ARTE/HIGH ART, Salles has hit pay dirt with his third feature
     film, the deeply moving, wonderfully acted

             CENTRAL STATION is a deceptively simple story. Dora, a retired
     schoolteacher, (the superb Fernanda Montenegro) earns money to
     supplement her pension by writing letters for the illiterate or
     semi-literate who pass daily through Rio de Janeiro's Central Station.
     She is harsh, judgmental and cynical; instead of posting all the
     letters (a service for which she charges extra), she and a neighbor
     (Marilia Pera) read through them and decide which, if any, get mailed.
     Most are either torn up or stuffed into drawers in her home. One of her
     clients is a woman with a young son who is trying to reach the boy's
     father. After a second visit to Dora, the woman is struck and killed by
     a bus. The now homeless boy (a marvelously expressive Vinicius De
     Oliveira) initially seeks refuge at the station. Eventually, Dora is moved
     by his plight and takes him home with her, where he discovers that she
     has not mailed the letters to his father. Goaded by a friend, Dora decides
     to sell the boy to an adoption agency but is reprimanded by her neighbor.

             Feeling guilty, she rescues the boy and agrees to accompany him
     on a journey to the remote village where his father lives. Along the way,
     both learn lessons and come to establish a friendship.

             Salles invokes the Italian neo-realists with the film which
     essentially becomes a road movie, but one that operates on several
     levels. There is the de facto journey, but there is also the spiritual one
     as well. Salles provided the idea for the story which screenwriters
     Joao Emanuel Carneiro and Marcos Bernstein fleshed out into basically
     a two-hander. All were blessed by the presence of Montenegro, one
     of the premiere stage actresses in Brazil, who has rarely worked in films.
     Her face alone is worth the price of admission. This actress can say
     more with a look, whether it be a withering glance or a beatific smile,
     than many starlets can using their entire bodies.

             Montenegro arguably delivers one of the best performances of
     the 1990s. She is matched by the untrained De Oliveira as her
     traveling companion. Discovered at an airport where he was working
     as shoeshine boy, this youngster seemingly is an old soul. He is cute
     without being cutesy and he manages to equal Montenegro in their
     scenes together. The entire film rises or falls on their relationship
     and they forge a believable bond. And only those with hearts of stone
     will not be moved by this genuinely delightful film.

Rating:                A-
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.