Thursday, September 02, 2010
Central Station begins with a shot of several large groups of people pouring out of train carriages and onto the platform at a local train station. The shot is linked to the next scene that takes place on ground level of the station, that being a pouring out of emotions that happens when several people partake in dictating letters to a woman they've never met but entrust to write down what they've said before mailing them off to the chosen address' of loved ones. Just in the opening, director Walter Salles foretells the spilling out of emotion the characters will go through in this film whilst, some might argue, bringing to attention the illiteracy problem that he believes plagues his native Brazil. The opening also goes a long way in establishing the protagonist of the film, a certain Dora (Montenegro), and how she is 'before' the film develops her. Central Station is, essentially, a road movie but it is one of the better road movies that I have ever seen. It is a humbling and thoroughly interesting piece that studies two people of binary oppositions in a situation that consistently pushes weight down on top of a delicate mindset that is possessed by the protagonist.
As a character, Dora is initially unlikable. She spends her days writing out letters dictated to her by illiterate people but rarely posts them to their respective addresses. She is friendless, bar a loose woman named Irene (Pêra) whom visits from the apartment downstairs, and does not have any family or pets. But what makes Central Station so memorable is the gradual changes Dora undergoes in order to become a better person and this is accomplished through the time she spends with a very young boy named Josué (de Oliveira). So the film is a character study, made in a language that is not of the English variety and stretches out to a little bit under two hours. But what brought it its success, I think, is its familiarity in regards to structure, a constantly shifting film that moves on down its single strand arc, effortlessly gliding from location to location and setup to pay-off. The beginning of Dora's transformation occurs not so far from her own door given how many miles she must travel in this film. She witnesses a young boy steal something from a stand before he is chased by security and mercilessly shot in a desolate area near the station.
The initial incident from the outside that interrupts Dora's life, which itself could constitute as the set up, is her acquiring of Josué, when a tragedy befalls him. She figures he is helpless and may need to steal to live, similarly to what the prior, now dead, youth had to do also. The centre of the film revolves around Dora delivering Josué to his father, an address that she acquired a few days earlier when the boy's own mother dictated a letter to her. The character's goal is in a very remote and far off place, too many bus rides and truck lifts away to be reached in a relatively quick time. But complications to do with people having moved on or being missing equate to the two having to trek on to the point where it would be wiser to continue into the unknown rather than just turn back, since a certain point as been crossed. During this time, Dora will undergo a transformation.
The ideas behind the film are perfectly captured by a truck driver, whose words double up as the film's entire study, something the author(s) wants to make quite clear. At one point, whilst driving flat out on the open road, the trucker exclaims that 'the open road has changed him'. Not only this but 'many times' when discussing his job and his experiences with Dora. Principally this is exactly the point. Central Station, being the 'road movie' that it is, allows two or slightly more persons to learn more about themselves as they travel on a continuous route of no return. This is the crux of the film as explained by an individual who is helpful for as long as he needs to be, states what he needs to state before being removed from the text once his kind-natured spirit is brought into repute for aiding in some shoplifting. Additionally, the boy Josué himself brings to both our and Dora's attention Dora's flaws.
If the demonisation of Josué's father is very much present as this uncaring and far away individual, who enjoyed being under the influence of alcohol, then the boy points out Dora bears a similar mindset with her attitudes to alcohol. The statement draws on parallels with the father, as this uncaring and quite solemn individual who doesn't see job through. Then we remember Dora's attitude to all the letters she wrote and to the people she took money off of, while she insulted them in the process. Is Dora any better than the boy's father? Did she ever stop to think of this? Perhaps the father is a better person for at least he, as pointed out by the boy, could mould wood and earn a living out of a skill. While thoroughly engaging and always interesting as interactions and situations are played out, Central Station takes time to develop exchanges and studies like all great, slow-burning character studies do. The film is rewarding in a spiritual, dramatic and emotional sense and it could quite feasibly be labelled as one of the better films to ever come out of South America.