The newest Nobel Prize in Literature, Portuguese writer José
Saramago has just released another book in the U.S. Once again the inimitable Saramago has
created a compelling tale. This time a dark one, dealing with a luminous blindness.
Dora (Fernanda Montenegro) is a retired school teacher who makes a living by writing
letters for illiterate people passing through Rio de Janeiro’s main train station, Central
Station. Commuting to the city from impoverished suburbs, poor workers flock to her,
hoping to contact lost family members, send love letters, or simply relate the harsh
details of their lives. Dora charges the equivalent of a dollar per letter she writes and
a dollar more if she is asked to mail it. Among her clients are Ana (Soia Lira) and her
nine-year-old son Josué (Vinícius de Oliveira), who has a fierce desire to meet his
father, whom he has never seen.
Hardened by the station’s endless stream of desperate faces, Dora has worked out a
peculiar daily routine, which incidentally helps her earn some extra money. Every night,
she takes the subway home to her apartment in the suburbs. There, Dora and her neighbor
Irene (Marília Pêra), also single and living alone, read aloud the letters Dora has
written during the day. Those that are considered importanta feware mailed,
and the rest are tossed in the garbage. If the two women disagree, the letter goes into a
drawer, to await later judgment. One of these letters in the drawer is Ana and Josué’s.
But Dora’s life is about to change dramatically. The next day, soon after Ana returns
to Central Station with Josué and dictates a second letter to the boy’s father, she is
hit by a bus after leaving the station and dies. Left alone with no relatives in Rio,
Josué wanders aimlessly around the station, until Dora decides to approach him.
At first, her interest in the boy is selfish: he could be a source of fast cash if sold
off to a dubious adoption agency. But after realizing the dark fate that is likely to be
in store for him, she reluctantly agrees to accompany Josué on a journey to find his
father in Brazil’s remote and undeveloped northeast.
Crossing a deserted geography, dotted by small towns overtaken by migrants, their
journey becomes a quest for their own identities: one boy’s search for his father, one
woman’s search for her heart.
* * *
Director Walter Salles
on "Central Station"
A Station Called Brazil. Few countries have suffered as many traumatic changes in the
last thirty years as Brazil. A late industrialization created a huge wave of internal
migration that, in turn, brought chaos to the cities, unprepared to accommodate so many
new arrivals. The absence of land reform and successive droughts in the northern states
led to a continuous exodus to the south of the country.
In the 1970’s, millions of migrants from the northeast abandoned their homes, families
and cultural traditions, attracted by the illusion of an economic miracle announced by the
military government. But promises were unfulfilled, unemployment rates soared, and so did
violence in the overpopulated Brazilian cities of the south.
In the beginning of the 90’s, the country plunged even further into a state of chaos.
After recently-elected President Collor announced an outrageous new plan to restructure
the economy, more than 800,000 young Brazilians opted for exile, in search of the
opportunity denied them in their homeland. For the first time since its discovery 500
years ago, Brazil became a country of emigration. This was the underlying theme of my
previous film, "Foreign Land," about a generation in crisis, lost in a country
which was, itself, unsure of its identity.
A few years have passed. We are now on the verge of a new century, and somehow, the
country has matured. We know that the economic miracle that would immediately solve all
our structural problems was a fallacy. We also know that mass exile is not a possible
solution. We are finally confronted with ourselves, with what we really are, so distant
from the image created by official statistics and by national television, entities that
have both been so efficient in controlling and defining Brazil’s recent past.
Today, an important quest is surfacing: the desire to find another country, one that
may be simpler and less glorious than previously announced, but aims to be more
compassionate and human. A country where the possibility of a certain innocence still
This latent desire to rediscover a country, to redefine ourselves, coincides with the
rebirth of Brazilian cinema, with the necessity to continue a cinematic tradition that was
brutally interrupted for political and economic reasonsperhaps because it depicted
faithfully what took place in Brazil, in contrast to what was shown on television.
"Central Station" aims to talk about this country searching for its own
roots. This is a film about a boy wanting to find his own identity (Josué), but is also
about people striving to maintain a contact with their past (the illiterate migrants who
dictate letters to Dora).
The origin of the story. The film’s core idea appeared after I directed a documentary
called "Life Somewhere Else" ("Socorro Nobre"), based on the written
correspondence between a half-literate prisoner and an elderly sculptor named Frans
Krajcberg. The woman prisoner, sentenced to 36 years in jail, had found a reason to resist
and survive her ordeal with the help of these letters that she wroteand the
responses she received from Krajcberg.
Having sensed how much one’s life can change when a simple letter is received, I
started to wonder what could happen if a letter did not get to its destination. . .
"Central Station’s" main architecture was developed from this starting point,
and a year later, its script received the "Cinema 100the Sundance Institute
International Award," granted by the Sundance Institute and NHK, as well as the
"Fond Sud" grant from the French Ministry of Culture.
The Characters. Like many people who had to endure the harsh times of the last decades,
Dora is a survivor. She has lost sight of most ethical and moral principles and makes ends
meet with the help of unorthodox methods.
Josué has also been hardened by his own, although short, history. He represents the
second generation of "nordestinos," migrants that believed in the official
promises of a future in the south. He desires now to find the home and family he has never
seen, inverting the exodus’ axis and, thus, redefining his own story. Most of all, he
desires to meet his father for the first time. And, in Portuguese,
father"pai"and country"país"are almost the
The Making of "Central Station." After the chaos that Braziland
Brazilian cinemaendured in the early 90’s, it was necessary to find a different
manner to produce films. On this film and my previous one, half the crew had never worked
in cinema before. With the exception of Fernanda Montenegro and Marília Pêra, the most
respected actresses in Brazil, the majority of the actors were making their debuts, along
with the art director, screenwriters, costume designer and casting director. The mixture
of professionalism and experience from a part of the crew and the desire and enthusiasm of
those that were discovering filmmaking made "Central Station" possible. More
than that: it made filming this story an extremely enjoyable experience.
Like "Foreign Land," "Central Station" was rehearsed like a play
before being filmed. Strange as it may seem, this process allows a lot of improvisation
during the shoot. What you find on location can be easily compared to what you had in the
rehearsal phase. To lock a road movie (or any film) before the shoot, before being
influenced by a specific geography, is suicidal. . .
This blend of preparation and respect for on-the-spot intuition was vital for
"Central Station." It also allowed us to finish the film before schedule,
working within a specific budget, essential factors in independent production.
* * *
ABOUT THE CAST
Fernanda Montenegro (Dora)
Considered by many to be Brazil’s greatest actress, Fernanda Montenegro (Dora) has
acted in more than fifty plays (including works by O’Neill, Durenmatt and Fassbinder) and
many feature films. In 1970, Montenegro received the Best Actress Award at the Moscow Film
Festival for her role in Paulo Porto’s "Em Família" (which also received the
"Best Film" Award at Moscow). She later won the Best Actress Award at Italy’s
Taormina Film Festival (1977) for her role in "Tudo Bem," directed by Arnaldo
Jabor, and starred in Leon Hirszman’s "They Don’t Wear Black-Tie," which won the
Golden Lion at the 1980 Venice Film Festival. In 1983, Montenegro received the
"Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres" from the French Ministry of Culture. Her
other film credits are: "A Falecida" by Leon Hirszman, Suzana Amaral’s "The
Hour of the Star," and Carlos Diegues’ "See This Song."
Marília Pêra (Irene)
Hailed as "one of the decade’s (1980’s) ten best actresses" by Pauline Kael,
Marília Pêra (Irene) won the National Society of Film Critics award for Best Actress in
1982 for her role in Hector Babenco’s acclaimed "Pixote," and has also received
Best Actress awards at the Gramado Film Festival (Triple Award Winner) and at the
Cartagena Film Festival for Carlos Diegues’ "Better Days Ahead." Her other films
include "Bar Esperanza," Paul Morrissey’s "Mixed Blood," "Angels
of the Night," "The Interview," and Carlos Diegues’ "Tieta."
Vinícius de Oliveira (Josué)
Josué is Vinícius de Oliveira’s first film role. He was ten years old when he
approached director Walter Salles at the Rio de Janeiro Airport, where he worked as a
shoeshine boy. Tested against more than 1500 other young actors for the role of Josué,
his performance was so convincing that he was immediately given the part. A born actor, he
proved extremely responsive to direction and demonstrated an amazing capacity to
concentrate during the most demanding film scenes.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
Walter Salles (Director)
Walter Salles’ work, both as a documentary and fiction filmmaker centers around the
theme of exile and the search for identity. His first feature film "Foreign
Land," shot in 1995 and co-directed by Daniela Thomas, holds a crucial place in the
renaissance of Brazilian cinema. The film won seven international prizes and has been
selected by over thirty film festivals. It was named Best Film of the Year in Brazil in
1996, where it played theatrically for over six months. It was shown to great acclaim in
the U.S. in 1997.
His documentaries, including "Life Somewhere Else" ("Socorro
Nobre") and "Krajcberg, the Poet of the Remains," among others, have won
awards in many international festivals, including the Fipa D’Or at the Festival
International des Programmes Audio-Visuels, and the Best Documentary and the Public’s
Prize at the Festival dei Popoli in Italy.
Since completing "Central Station," which will have its world premiere at the
1998 Sundance Film Festival prior to its showing in competition at Berlin, Salles also
directed "Minuit" (together with Daniela Thomas), a short film for the series
"2000 Seen By. . ." for the French television station Arte.
Arthur Cohn (Producer)
Born in Basel, Switzerland, Arthur Cohn is the only film producer to win five Academy
Awards. He received this unique honor for "The Sky Above, the Mud Below" (Best
Documentary Feature, 1961), Vittorio De Sica’s "The Garden of the
Finzi-Continis" (Best Foreign Language Film, 1971), Jean-Jacques Annaud’s "Black
and White in Color" (Best Foreign Language Film, 1977) "Dangerous Moves"
(Best Foreign Language Film, 1984) and Barbara Kopple’s "American Dream" (Best
Documentary Feature, 1990). In addition, Cohn was nominated in 1980 as producer of the
documentary feature "The Yellow StarThe Persecution of the Jews in Europe
Arthur Cohn enjoyed a fruitful collaboration with Vittorio De Sica on such films as:
`"Woman Times Seven," with Shirley MacLaine; "A Place for Lovers,"
with Faye Dunaway and Marcello Mastroianni; "Sunflower" with Sophia Loren and
Mastroianni; and "A Brief Vacation," which was hailed as "Best European
Picture of the Year." His other films include "Two Bits" with Al Pacino and
the internationally hailed documentary drama "The Final Solution."
Arthur Cohn has been honored all over the world for his work. The American Film
Institute has held retrospectives of his films in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles and
similar retrospectives were held in Hong Kong, Manila, Cairo, Jerusalem, Munich and many
other festivals. He has a star on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Famean achievement
usually reserved for Americansand has also been honored with the proclamation of an
"Arthur Cohn Day" by the Mayor of Los Angeles. In 1995, Cohn was awarded the
France’s "Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres," the highest order that a
non-French citizen can receive.
An Arthur Cohn Production
CENTRAL STATION ("Central do Brasil")
A film by Walter Salles
Sundance Film Festival 1998 World Premiere
Showtimes at Sundance: Monday, January 19, 7:00 pm, Eccles Theatre Tuesday, January 20,
9:00 am, Park City Library Center
Directed by WALTER SALLES Producers ARTHUR COHN MARTINE DE CLERMONT-TONNERRE Executive
Producers ELISA TOLOMELLI LILLIAN BIRNBAUM DONALD RANVAUD Associate Producer PAULO BRITO
Screenplay JOÀO EMANUEL CARNEIRO MARCOS BERNSTEIN Based on an original idea by WALTER
SALLES Director of Photography WALTER CARVALHO Editors ISABELLE RATHERY FELIPE LACERDA
Production Designers CASSIO AMARANTE CARLA CAFFÉ Music ANTONIO PINTO JAQUES MORELEMBAUM
Sound JEAN-CLAUDE BRISSON FRANÇOIS GROULT BRUNO TARRIERE Sound Recorder MARK A. VAN DER
WILLIGEN Costumes CRISTINA CAMARGO Set Designer MONICA COSTA 1st Assistant Director KÁTIA
LUND Continuity (Northeast) ADELINA PONTUAL Casting SÉRGIO MACHADO Production Coordinator
BETO BRUNO Actors’ Coach FÁTIMA TOLEDO Make-up ANTOINE GARABEDIAN
Dora FERNANDA MONTENEGRO Irene MARÍLIA PÊRA Josué VINÍCIUS DE OLIVEIRA Ana SOIA
LIRA César OTHON BASTOS Pedrão OTÁVIO AUGUSTO Yolanda STELA FREITAS Isaías MATHEUS
NACHTERGAELE Moisés CAIO JUNQUEIRA Dora’s Clients (Rio) SOCORRO NOBRE MANOEL GOMES
ROBERTO ANDRADE SHEYLA KENIA MALCON SOARES MARIA FERNANDES MARIA MARLENE CHRISANTO CAMARGO
JORSEBÁ-SEBASTIÀO OLIVEIRA Religious Man SIDNEY ANTUNES Stall Owner JOSÉ PEDRO DA COSTA
FILHO Young Prostitute (Letter Client) ESPERANÇA MOTTA Thief MARCELO CARNEIRO Walkman
Owner MANULA-MANUEL JOSÉ NEVES Shoeshine PRETO DE LINHA João (Yolanda’s husband) MÁRIO
MENDES Man on the Bus GILDÁSIO LEITE Women on the Bus SÔNIA LEITE ESTELINA MOREIRA DA
SILVA Bus Driver ZEZÀO PEREIRA Cashier FELÍCIA DE CASTRO Bené HARILDO DEDA Bené’s Son
MARCOS DE LIMA Waitress MARIA MENEZES "Lipstick" Woman TELMA CUNHA Pilgrim’s
Driver JOSÉ RAMOS Woman Singing on the Truck DONA LUZIA Pilgrim BERTHO FILHO Jessé’s Son
EDIVALDO LIMA Violeta ANTONIETA NORONHA Maria (Jessé’s Wife) RITA ASSEMANY Jessé GIDEON
ROSA Praying Woman DONA SEVERINA Praying Man JOÀO RODRIGUES Preacher NANEGO LIRA Singing
Boy ANTÔNIO MARCOS Woman in the Picture IAMI REBOUÇAS Picture Stall Owner JOÀO BRAZ
Dora’s Clients (Northeast) ANTÔNIO DOS SANTOS PATRÍCIA BRÁS INGRID TRIGUEIRO INALDO
SANTANA JOSÉ PEREIRA DA SILVA ELIANE SILVA CÍCERO SANTOS ANDRÉA ALBUQUERQUE EVERALDO
PONTES Cashier DIOGO LOPES FILHO Man From the F-Street House FERNANDO FULCO
"Toada e Desafio" Written by Capiba Performed by Quinteto da Paraíba
"Preciso Me Encontrar" Written by Candela Performed by Cartola
"Mama Africa" Written by Chico Cesar Performed by Chico Cesar
"Ruínas da Babilônia" Written by Fauzi Beydoun Performed by Tribo de Jah
"É Deus por Nós" Written by Fátima Leão and Alexandre Neto Performed by
Zezé Di Camargo e Luciano
Special thanks to: SUNDANCE INSTITUTE Michelle Satter, Geoffrey Gilmore, Frank Pierson,
Joan Tewkesbury, Patricia Cardoso-Reneau
1998. 115 minutes. Color. In Portuguese with English subtitles