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CENTRAL STATION(director: Walter Salles; screenwriters: Joao Emanuel Carneiro/Marcos Bernstein; cinematographer: Walter Carvalho; editors: Isabelle Rathery/Felipe Lacerda; cast: Fernanda Montenegro (Dora), Marilia Pera (Irene), Vinicius de Oliveira (Josue), Soia Lira (Ana) and Othon Bastos (Cesar); Runtime: 115; Sony Pictures Classics; 1998-Brazil)
“The film was too much stuck in its sentimentality and had an uninspiring and a contrived plot that kept me from warming up to the story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

How receptive you are to this well told but unoriginal and very sentimental Brazilian film about a miscreant old woman named Dora (Fernanda), a former teacher and now a letter writer in the Central Station of Rio, depends on how you take to her. The story revolves around a 10-year-old orphaned boy, Josue (Vinicius), whose mother has just been run over by a bus after writing a letter asking her drunken husband who abandoned her and the kid years ago to get back with them again.

I gladly admit I enjoyed viewing the unusual road scenes in the desolate Brazilian countryside, where the people are poor, ignorant, superstitious, and craving for a religion that gives them some form of hope for their dismal lives. Former documentary film director Walter Salles, ably showed how religion can be as phony as is the government that keeps most of the people impoverished. The places visited were where tourists don’t often go, and a foreign film audience rarely ever sees the Brazil shown here.

The strongest point of the film is the documentary type of cinematography that went into showing the parched Brazilian countryside, making the barren land throb with life. The most exciting shots were reserved for the religious pilgrimage the two weary travelers stumbled into. They were caught in the light coming from the bright torches of the believers, as the two wanderers search for themselves in the darkness of the night.

Ultimately, this is a road film. Dora relents from her hatred of the kid, as she changes her mind after selling the kid to some unscrupulous people who will sell him for adoption: an adoption that could lead to unimaginable medical experiments done on the child. She decides to risk her life to get him out of those unscrupulous hands, and take him to the father who may not even be where the kid thinks he lives. A theme about innocent children being abused that has been done many times before, sometimes much better as in Landscape in the Mist.

The film emphasized the built-in misery the heroine has, that made life for her a grind. There seemed to be something special about her that the actress was able to bring out from her characterization that made her seem better than what she appeared to be. The only friend she had was Irene (Pera), a much kinder and happier person than she, who could have been a prostitute — the film only hinted at that.

The beauty of this tale is not in the story itself but in the way it affected the two main characters, Dora and Josue. They eventually find something in themselves that they didn’t know they had. They learn how to deal with the bitterness in their life. Their experience was comparable to a religious awakening. These two rotten apples turn out to be not so bad, after all. How much you like the film, depends on how believable you find the transformation that is about to take place for these characters.

The film was too much stuck in its sentimentality and had an uninspiring and a contrived plot that kept me from warming up to the story. That the woman being transformed from a spiteful person who made fun of the letter writers and despised children to an almost angelic figure, someone capable of bringing great joy to the world in such a short time, was too much for me to accept. Though, I must say, the acting by Montenegro was grand. She is the reason for seeing the film, along with the fine cinematography.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”