A director with two small art house releases on his resume. A celebrated theatre actress. A penniless nine-year old shoeshine boy who had never seen a film before.
This unlikely threesome created a film that created waves around the world, winning two Oscar nominations, a Golden Globe award for best foreign language film, a BAFTA award and the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, where Central Station premiered in 1998.
Central Station is the story of a retired school teacher who writes letters for illiterate people at Rio de Janeiro’s central railroad station. Dora, played by Fernanda Montenegro, is hard-edged, joyless and deeply cynical.
She spends the day listening to people’s innermost fears and fantasies but she doesn’t bother to mail the letters. Instead, in the evening she sits with a friend and ridicules the strangers who have opened their hearts to her, often just tossing the letters into a drawer.
Against her instincts, Dora gets entangled with Josué, an orphan whose mother had Dora write two letters to Josué’s father, minutes before she is killed in a bus accident.
Dora embarks on a difficult journey to reunite Josué with his father and in the process, discovers her own humanity.
This material could have easily become a sunny, sentimental road movie but in the hands of director Walter Salles, it remains true, tough and deeply moving.
Salles locates the beauty in ordinary lives. When the film finished, I wept with Dora and Josué. But Salles also left me with hope and faith. At the heart of Central Station is the staggering performance by Montenegro.
Dora evolves imperceptibly into a woman whose tragedy sears our hearts. What’s remarkable is that Vinicius de Oliveira, the non-actor who plays Josué, matches her brilliance. His face brims with intensity and a remarkable honesty.
Central Station, has, what Salles described as, ‘emotional voltage.’ Like all great art, it shifts something inside you. Find it.