Central do Brasil

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(Central Station)

Brazil/France, 1998

Director: Walter Salles

Production: Arthur Cohn Productions in association with Martine and Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre (MACT Prods, France), Videofilms (Brazil), Riofilme (Brazil), and Canal Plus (France); color, 35 mm; running time: 106 minutes. Released 16 January 1998 in Switzerland; U.S. release at Sundance Film Festival, 19 January 1998, by Sony Pictures Classics. Cost: $2.9 million dollars.

Producers: Arthur Cohn and Martine Clermonte-Tonnerre; executive producers: Elisa Tolomelli, Lillian Birnbaum, Donald Ranvaud, Thomas Garvin; associate producer: Paulo Brito; screenplay: Joao Emanuel Carneiro and Marcos Bernstein, based on the original idea by Salles; photography: Walter Carvalho; editors: Isabelle Rathery, Felipe Lacerda; production design: Cassio Amarante and Carla Caffe; set designer: Mônica Costa; costumes: Cristina Camargo; music arrangers: Antonio Pinto and Jacques Morelembaum; sound: Mark A. Van Der Willigen, Jean-Claude Brisson, François Groult; assistant director: Kátia Lund; casting: Sergio Machado.

Cast: Fernanda Montenegro (Dora); Vinícius de Oliveira (Josué); Marilia Pêra (Irene); Soia Lira (Ana); Othon Bastos (Cesar); Otávio Augusto (Pedrão); Stela Frietas (Yolanda); Matheus Nachtergaele (Isaías); Caio Junqueria (Moises).

Awards: Berlin Film Festival Golden Bear Award for Best Film and Silver Bear Award for Best Actress (Montenegro), 1998; Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film, 1998; U.S. National Board of Review Award for Best Foreign Film, 1998; Sundance Film Festival Cinema 100 Script Award, 1998; Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign Film and Best Actress, 1998.



Kaufman, Anthony, "Sentimental Journey as National Allegory: An Interview with Walter Salles," in Cineaste (New York), Winter 1998.

Newsweek (Latin American edition), 25 January 1998.

McCarthy, Todd, "Central Station," in Variety (New York), 9 February 1998.

Paxman, Andrew, "Full Salles Ahead for 'Central' Helmer," in Variety, 23 November 1998.

Aufderheide, Pat, "Central Station," in Film Comment (New York), November 1998.

Klawans, Stuart, "Central Station," in The Nation (New York), 7 December 1998.

"Interview: A Hot Film from Brazil," in The New York Times, 21 March 1999.

* * *

The film Central Station begins in Rio de Jainero's crowded train station, through which an estimated 300,000 people pass each day. The film focuses on Dora (Fernanda Montenegro), an older, cynical woman who earns a living there by writing letters for illiterate Brazilians. From its opening, the film depicts the faces and stories of everyday Brazilians and incorporates them into the script. A documentary style is achieved using a hidden camera to capture snapshots of real people dictating letters to Dora.

Dora befriends a young boy, Josué (Vincinus de Olivera), who is left alone after his mother is killed outside the station. Josué and his mother had previously hired Dora to write letters to Josué's father in the northeast of Brazil. Josué, now motherless, embarks on an odyessy by traversing the country in search of his father, a man he has never met. Dora, a woman without a family, and with a desire to reconcile her past troubled relationship with her own father, acts as a chaperone to Josué on this journey.

A true road movie, the film showcases Brazil's colorful landscapes, picturesque views of the rural hinterlands, and its people's rich cultural traditions. Walter Carvalho, the director of photography, captures beautifully composed panoramic scenes of the country. The director Walter Salles, whose most recent film was Terra Estrangeira (Foreign Land, 1995), teamed up with producer Arthur Cohn, who had previously worked with famed Italian neo-realist director Vittorio De Sica. The result is a film that carries on the neo-realist tradition by depicting poor and marginalized people in a way that shows their dignity despite their daily trials and tribulations of life. In addition, the majority of actors in this film are non-actors, including the boy playing the lead role of young Josué. The lead actor, Vinícius de Oliveira, was a nine-and-a-half year-old shoe shine boy at the Rio airport when Salles met him. Beating out 1,500 other applicants for the part, Oliveira in his debut performance demonstrates an extraordinary sincerity and charisma.

While Dora and Josué have a troubled relationship from the outset (due principally to Dora's moral lapses such as lying and stealing), the film shows a gradual moral transformation in Dora's character. The superb acting by the "Grand Dame" of the Brazilian theatre earned Montenegro numerous accolades, including a Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival, and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.

Salles also pays homage to a 1960s Brazilian film movement called Cinema Novo. This group of politically motivated filmmakers tried to show a side of Brazil that was always ignored or made invisible by the elite. Films by these directors depicted the poor, the dispossessed, the rural peasants, and others living in the interior of Brazil, called the sertao (hinterlands). By shooting in the state of Bahia (the birthplace and location of many films by Cinema Novo pioneer Glauber Rocha), Salles shows that he has not forgotten the national legacy of socially conscious filmmaking in Brazil. The truck driver, Cesar, who gives a lift to Dora and Josué, is in fact the well-respected Cinema Novo actor Otton Bastos.

In contrast to Cinema Novo's mission to depict the "aesthetics of hunger," however, Salles' film has been described by film critic Fabiano Canosa as an "aesthetics of affection" or an "aesthetics of solidarity." The crux of the film lies not so much in whether Josué is able to find his father, but rather, how the unlikely paring of a dour, initially unfriendly woman with a lost, confused young boy can blossom into a strong bond of mutual caring and interdependence. Both are alone in the world, and both are struggling to survive under difficult circumstances. Walter Salles has stated that his film is about Brazilian identity, and that it is an allegory for how the nation is developing and surviving, despite its financial difficulties.

Central Station, with its sweeping landscapes of an arid Brazil replete with religious scenes (a pilgrimage scene where over 800 real pilgrims performed a ritual ceremony), colorful restaurants, and vibrantly painted dwellings, focuses on people who are often ignored by mainstream film and television. At the same time however, Dora, Josué, and others are bathed in a light that makes the story and images palatable for an international film viewership. Filmed in an area covering over 8,000 miles in a period of ten weeks, Salles' Central Station captures Brazil's resilient spirit in the face of adversity.

—Tamara L. Falicov

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