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Central Station (Walter Salles) 1998

    Sentimental, but still intelligent, Walter Salles' Central Station is definitely better than the schizophrenic Life Is Beautiful, which won the Best Foreign Film Oscar the year both were nominated for that award. It's like a somewhat more palatable, less brilliant version of Victor Babenenco's Pixote (which is also set in Brazil & deals with the country's abandoned youth).

    The main reason to watch this film is Fernando Montenegra's great lead performance as Dora. Her character is a cynic, and that cynicism helps disarm us as we're made to watch the inherent sentimentality of seeing a little kid suffer. What could easily descend into trite emotionalism doesn't, mostly because of her work. There is something lamentable in seeing her cold exterior inevitably melt, but it gives was to the the uplifting sense of purpose we see during her pilgrimage. The film's got an epic feel even though it's well under two hours long, and we get a good sampling of Brazilian culture, including some surprisingly incisive skewering of the country's religious preoccupations. The film seems to be telling us that religious transformation happens not at festivals or in chaste environments, but rather in the unpredictable world itself. Overall, it's a film that is eminently watchable (and thankfully never slides into artistic pretensions), and comes recommended.

***1/2

September, 2001

Jeremy Heilman