A deserved hit with film festival audiences, "Central Station" takes potentially predictable subject matter -- a lonely older woman and a young boy, who has just lost his mother, search for the father he never knew -- and infuses it with a jolt of bracing originality and quiet power.
Yes, the reluctant odd couple will ultimately form a bond in spite of themselves. Yes, each will ultimately have a profound influence on the other. But impressive filmmaker Walter Salles
("Foreign Land"), working from an original concept richly fleshed out by first-time screenwriters Joao Emanuel Carneiro and Marcos Bernstein
, displays both a visual virtuosity and a tremendous rapport with his two remarkable leads.
Destined to be nominated for the foreign-language film Oscar, the Arthur Cohn
production could also generate considerable traffic beyond the usual art house destinations.
Respected Brazilian actress Fernanda Montenegro
puts in a masterful, fearless performance as the world-weary Dora, a lonely, cynical, far-from-pleasant former schoolteacher who meets rent for her depressing little flat by writing letters dictated by commuters who pass through Rio de Janeiro's Central Station.
But rather than mailing those letters, Dora takes them home and has fun reading them to her neighbor, Irene (Marilia Pera), before either ripping them up or stuffing them into a drawer.
One of those would-be correspondents -- a woman with a 9-year-old boy who just dictated a note to her son's long-absent father -- is killed by a bus, leaving the child, Josue (Vinicius de Oliveira) to fend for himself in the busy terminal.
Ultimately, after a couple of bad starts (at one juncture Dora "sells" Josue to a shady adoption racket, using some of her cash to buy a new remote-control TV), the stubborn twosome hit the road in search of the Josue's dad, with Dora ending up finding some long-lost feelings along the way.
Montenegro, who won the Silver Bear for best actress at this year's Berlin Film Festival for her warts-and-all performance, never stoops to caricature in her portrayal of a hardened woman who spent a good chunk of her adult life in self-imposed emotional exile.
Equally impressive is her traveling companion, de Oliveira, a former Rio airport shoeshine boy who never acted prior to his demanding, extraordinarily focused and moving work here.
Not only does Salles coax greatness from his leads, he also directs with a stirring visual sense. Working in tandem with director of photography Walter Carvalho
, Salles deftly choreographs sequence after sequence -- Josue attempting to run after a departing train, Dora looking for Josue in the midst of a massive, candle-lit religious service -- that vividly underscore the film's themes of alienation and misplaced identity.
Sony Pictures Classics
An Arthur Cohn
A film by Walter Salles
Director: Walter Salles
Producers: Arthur Cohn
, Martine de Clermont-Tonnerre
Executive producers: Elisa Tolomelli
, Lillian Birnbaum
, Donald Ranvaud
Screenwriters: Joao Emanuel Carneiro, Marcos Bernstein
Based on an original idea by Walter Salles
Director of photography: Walter Carvalho
Production designers: Cassio Amarante
, Carla Caffe
Editors: Isabelle Rathery
, Felipe Lacerda
Costume designer: Cristina Camargo
Music: Antonio Pinto, Jaques Morelembaum
Dora: Fernanda Montenegro
Irene: Marilia Pera
Josue: Vinicius de Oliveira
Ana: Soia Lira
Cesar: Othon Bastos
Pedrao: Otavio Augusto
Isaias: Matheus Nachtergaele
Moises: Caio Junqueira
Running time -- 115 minutes
MPAA rating: R