When a retired school teacher helps a nine-year-old boy go looking for his lost daddy, you could be a sob away from emotional collapse. It is to director Walter Salles' credit that Central Station avoids the saccharine pit.

Fernanda Montenegro gives such a truthful performance, assisted with remarkable dexterity, by shoeshine-boy-turned-actor, Vinicius de Oliveira, that the cinematic quality of this Brazilian film dazzles. It becomes a road movie.

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It didn't start that way. It started with get-outta-my-face. Dora (Montenegro) sets up her stall in Rio's main railway station, as a scribe. Illiterates pay her to write letters for them. One of these is Joshue's mother, who, through no fault of her own, gets run over by a truck, shortly afterwards.

Joshue (de Oliveira) sleeps in the station, nags Dora to send a message to his father who lives somewhere up north. Dora takes him home, sells him to an illegal adoption agency, which may be a front for organ transplantation, has second thoughts, steals him back and goes on the run. What improves the chemistry is Dora's reluctance to be involved in anything so unselfish as street boy charity.

Joshue is proud and independent. He finds being bossed by this badly dressed, opinionated woman the unforgiving side of okay. How these two learn to tolerate and eventually need each other lies at the core of a stimulating, emotionally rewarding film that is beautifully acted and spangled with surprises.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A schoolteacher helps a young boy hunt for his dad.
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Director: Walter Salles

Writer: Joao Emanuel Carneiro, Marcos Bernstein

Starring: Fernanda Montenegro, Marilia Pera, Vinicius de Oliveira, Soia Lira

Year: 1997

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Brazil/France

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