Central do Brasil (1998)

reviewed by
Steve Rhodes

A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 1998 Steve Rhodes
RATING (0 TO ****):  ** 1/2

Dora, an ex-elementary schoolteacher, spends her time now running a scam in Rio de Janeiro's central train station. Poor, illiterate people in the movie CENTRAL STATION (CENTRAL DO BRASIL) pay her to write letters for them. She doesn't just take dictation; she suggests just the right words for every situation.

The only problem is that she saves the cost of the postage by not mailing the letters. When her customers complain that their intended recipients have not gotten their letters, she blames it on Brazil's notoriously unreliable postal system. Her understanding, indigent clients believe everything Dora tells them.

As Dora, Fernanda Montenegro gives an empathetic performance as a woman who scrapes by in life by deceiving others. With a double chin, large bags under her eyes and a thousand lines on her face, Dora is the type of person who usually looks a decade older than her actual age. The lonely Dora doesn't have much of a life either. She says sadly that she has "no children, no husband, no family, no dog."

One day, after asking that a letter be sent to her estranged husband, a woman is killed by a bus. The dead woman's 9-year-old son, Josue (Vinicius de Oliveira), effectively becomes an orphan. Dora sees this as a financial opportunity for herself. She sells the boy for the price of a television set to people who either run an illegal adoption agency or who kill children in order to traffic in their organs. We never learn which.

After a change of heart, Dora kidnaps the boy back, which causes the Josue's new "owners" to chase after them. The body of the movie is a long road picture with Dora becoming a surrogate mother to Josue as they travel to his father's last known address.

The opening, brief letter-writing portion of the movie, which has a montage reminiscent of a Woody Allen film, is the movie at its best. Once they hit the road, the story quickly bogs down. Not much happens, and what does goes very slowly. Typical of their adventures is the time they get stuck in a large group of religious pilgrims who are engaging in a mass prayer ceremony.

The film's schmaltzy and contrived ending comes out of nowhere. The putative tearjerker of a conclusion left me dry-eyed. It may not be much of a movie, but, for the bulk of it, the strong and heartfelt performances of the two leads do make up for the threadbare storyline.

CENTRAL STATION runs 1:55. The film is in Portuguese with English subtitles. It is not rated but might be PG-13 for brief violence and some profanity and would be fine for kids around 12 and up.

Email: Steve.Rhodes@InternetReviews.com Web: www.InternetReviews.com

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