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'Central Station'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 1999


Central Station Fernanda Montenegro helps a boy find his father in "Central Station". (Sony Pictures Classics)

Walter Salles Jr.
Fernanda Montenegro;
Marilia Pera;
Vinicius de Oliveira;
Soia Lira;
Othon Bastos
Running Time:
1 hour, 55 minutes
Under 17 restricted

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Brazilian director Walter Salles's quiet tale of longing and belonging opens, ironically enough, amid the cacophonous congestion of Rio de Janeiro's cavernous central train station, where hard-boiled Dora (Fernanda Montenegro) earns a living by writing letters and postcards for the illiterate. Many of them she never even sends, dropping them instead into an overstuffed drawer in her shabby apartment and laughing over the heartache of others with her pal Irene (Marilia Pera).

One day the mother of a young boy stops by Dora's booth to dictate a conciliatory letter to the child's estranged father, only to be run over as she leaves the station. The newly orphaned gamin (Vinicius de Oliveira) awakens Dora's dormant maternal instinct and she takes him home and, after an abortive attempt to sell him to an adoption agency, the two hit the highway in search of daddy. Salles's film is a touching and unusual road movie-cum-buddy film, where the road is often not much more than a dirt lane and the buddies are a mutually distrustful punk kid and cynical, middle-aged crone.

There's no flash or splash here, even in the understated performances by Montenegro and de Oliveira, who bowl over with honesty instead of hammy emoting. Theirs is not the Rio of the samba, the bossa nova or the thong bathing suit, but a gritty city whose sadness – and potential for redemption – is universal.


© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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