Central Station (1998)

Directed by Walter Salles, Jr.
Written by Marcos Bernstein & João Emanuel Carneiro, based on a story by Walter Salles, Jr.
Starring Fernanda Montenegro, Vinicius de Oliveira, Marília Pêra, Othon Bastos, Soia Lira

My Advice: Wait and Rent It.

Dora (Montenegro) is one of the many citizens who eke out a living in Rio's Central Station.  She is a scribe, writing letters for people who are completely illiterate.  She's not the nicest of ladies, as we soon learn, for she takes the letters home to share with her neighbor Irene (Pêra).  They scoff and tear them up, or just leave them in a drawer, never to be sent.  When one of her customers, Ana (Lira), is hit by a bus, her son Josué (de Oliveira) is left with nowhere to go.  He knows where his father lives because of the address on the letter her mother had written, but he'll never make it on his own.  Almost against her will, the bitter Dora comes to his aid to make the journey across country to where the boy belongs.

The fact that the story takes place in Brazil of today is irrelevant.  This could be a story of the American ghetto or of the post-apocalyptic outback.  (I mean think about it, the amount of dust and delapidated vehicles...I can't be the only person who had that cross their mind.)  But the environment is played up well by Salles and cinematographer Walter Carvalho.  A scene where people literally stream from windows and doors into a train car sets us up for the world that Dora and Josué inhabit--unforgiving and brutal. 

Montenegro plays the embittered old maid to the hilt, angry and confused at her lot in life and her affection toward the boy.  De Oliveira plays his role of the urchin well, Josué's suspicious nature working well against Dora's misanthropic nature.  The journey to find Josué's father, which takes up the majority of the film, is well thought out, including some slightly heavy-handed but effective religious imagery.  When it is an odd couple road movie, it works well.  When it tries to transcend that genre and become something else, for example, a deep statement on family or memory, it can't seem to get its feet off the ground.  It is still a worthwhile viewing experience, and would translate just fine on the small screen.

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