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By Ron Wells | November 23, 1998

When I’ve been up all night writing, there’s nothing I like more than sitting through Brazilian art films. Why do I do this to myself?
Winner of the Golden Bear at the 1998 Berlin Film Festival, “Central Station” is the story of Dora (Fernanda Montenegro), a retired elementary schoolteacher and Josue (Vinicius Be Oliviera) in Rio De Janero. To make ends meet, Dora writes letters for the illiterate in Rio’s central train station, though rarely actually sends them. One day, Dora writes a letter for Josue and his mother to the father he’s never met to inform him of a visit to the outer reaches of Brazil’s frontier. Moments later, Josue’s mother is killed by a bus, leaving the child to fend for himself. For a fee, Dora brings the boy to a shady figure who claims the child will be brought to America for adoption. Dora later realizes the child is meant for illegal organ harvest, and rescues him. Unable to return home, she uses the fee to take the child to his father. Josue doesn’t trust her as she had sold him. Dora has let no one close to her in years. As the pair lose most of their money on the way, they must learn trust and compassion for each other to complete the search for the father.
I think I nodded off somewhere and there was something about a stolen bicycle.
Attitude aside, I wasn’t in the mood for this film, but it got to me anyway. The main reason is Montenegro, kind of a latin Jessica Tandy. The film kicks in hard at the point where she’s broke and suddenly very desperate. The hook here is the letters. As people read or dictate them, they reveal themselves. Even when, late in the movie, Dora read aloud from someone else’s letter, she reveals her own feelings. The letters accentuate a theme of loneliness and the inability to communicate. Dora survives by helping others speak but failing to deliver the message. She redeems herself by attempting to personally deliver the letter and the boy to his father. On the way she crosses both physical and spiritual landscapes to reach others. The letter, child, and now spiritual mother complete the journey by meeting another letter. Dora then writes her own to mark her return from one frontier to leave her heart at the other end.

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