Central Station…more about a boy

MV5BMTc1MzU5MDgzMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDQ4ODY2OA@@._V1_SX214_In the late November, I made a deal with my students. If they read Kerouac’s On the Road by Christmas, we could go see the film together as a class trip. (It was opening December 21.) However, for whatever reason, the film came, left, and went straight to video, before the first weekend was through. Needless to say, we did not go on our trip, (although one student claimed he could pirate it the day it came out and offered to show it in class.)

Later I told my boss this story. He hadn’t been aware of the On the Road film, but said that the director Walter Sayles was one of his favorites and that Sayles’ film Central Station was extraordinary and something I should see. And as he does often, he presented me with the DVD of it a week later.

Well, I finally got to watch last week. (I need to announce a spoiler here, but the ending is not the point. We all know how Romeo and Juliet ends but we watch it for what it gives us and makes us feel!)

Central Station (original title Central do Brasil) begins in Rio de Janiero’s enormous and busy train station, where Isadora (Fernanda Montenegra) makes her living writing letters for the illiterate. She scams most of them, never posting the letters she writes. One day a boy, Josué (Vinícius de Oliveira) and his mother arrive at her table. The mother wants to contact the boy’s father; she says that the boy has been asking about his father whom he has never seen. She dictates a letter that is both angry and accusatory.

The two appear again to Isadora’s table the next day to revise the letter, the mother wanting to erase much of the bile that was in the first. Astutely, the young boy is suspicious that Isadora still has the first letter right there and is able to retrieve it so quickly.

Central Station

Central Station illustration by jpbohannon © 2013

Afterwards, as the mother and the young boy leave the station, the mother is run over by a bus and killed, and by the end of the day Josué falls into the care of Isadora.

Central Station could have easily followed the film cliché where the rigid adult is paired with a rambunctious child and all sorts of mahem ensues–but it does not. It is not that kind of movie. Isadora does not want the boy; she has long been dealing with her own issues of parental abandonment. In fact, her first action is to sell him to an adoption agency. But that wracks her with guilt and she goes and retrieves him–keeping the money for herself which places her in some danger. Despite her bitter disposition, her jaded cynicism, and her own personal issues, she is responsible enough to want to get the child to his father. (And after all, she still has the address from the letter she never sent.) And so the two start the long trek by bus, kitted out with the money that she had originally sold Josué for.

Of course, the journey is difficult and there are a number of setbacks. Several times Isadora attempts to abandon Josué, but she fails–not because of pangs of conscience, but because of circumstances beyond her control. She dreams of running away with the kind truck driver who helped them out, but even Jopsué knew that that wasn’t going to work. She attempts to leave him while he is sleeping (his backpack secretly supplied with the money), but that doesn’t work and, in fact, goes horribly wrong.

And then finally they arrive, but the father is not where he last address indicated. Finding him is more difficult than they originally thought. In fact, they never do find the father–but they do find that Josué has two older brothers, who take him in.

In the history of film, there are certain moments that break your heart in both their beauty and their poignancy. The final scene where Isadora rides in a bus back home to Rio is one such scene. She has snuck away once again, in the middle of the night and leaving Josué with his brothers. As she attempts to write him a note, her anguish is palpable.

[caption id="attachment_2082" align="alignright" width="364"]fernanda_1 Brazilian actress, Fernanda Montenegra

The film is really a showcase for Fernanda Montenegra, one of Brazil’s greatest actresses. To be honest, her character Isadora is very unlikable –someone who cheats the poor and illiterate and sees a suddenly orphaned child as a get rich quick opportunity. Yet it is Montenegra’s talent that draws us into her, that makes us want her to do the right thing, and that breaks our hearts in the closing scenes. And the young Oliveira, who plays Josué, plays against her as if her were a veteran actor. Indeed, Josué’s uncanny and mature sense of what Isadora is up to is one of the delights of the film.

What Central Station is not is a showcase for Rio de Janeiro Except for Rio’s bustling train station and a street fair in a small outpost beyond the city, the film doesn’t dwell on location or even local color. Sayles, a Rio de Janiero native, sees nothing exotic about his home city…but perhaps that is to deliberately underscore the universality of this lovely and moving film.


6 thoughts on “Central Station…more about a boy

  1. 🙂 Now I want to see the movie too… You are such a great story teller John, I missed your posts.
    I wish I had the privilege to be in your class, in the last row, quiet. I’m very honest, you are a great teacher. My teachers never took us out to movies, nor had too much time for us, it was all so damn rigid and tasteless when I was in school.
    Hope you and your family and the little one are all fine.

  2. Wow John…I now want to go out and get that movie…sounds like something Cathrin would also love. I recently bought a Sony BluRay player at Costco…amazing stuff nowadays, it connects wirelessly to the home network and we can stream movies from Netflix , Hulu, YouTube, etc. (took me ages and several calls to Help Lines to figure it all out) but voila…movies on tap. Long story longer: last night, I watched the first episode of Kevin Spacey’s “House of Cards” (a Netflix almost original)…Spacey is majority whip and is passed over for Secretary of State by the new President whom he was instrumental in electing…he now vows Machiavellian revenge. Suddenly, I realised I’d seen it before…same story, same series title from England starring Ian Richardson as the amoral, manipulative Conservative whip…a show in which he oozed with dark charm and threatening lack of boundaries for means justifying the end. I think the Spacey version will be a real gotcha series…they use the same ploy as the English one where the main character looks at the camera and let’s you in on his immediate thoughts…you become his silent companion who can’t stop the guy! Good stuff!

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