Central Casting

Director Walter Salles depicts his home country of Brazil and its people with a mix of realism and tenderness in Central Station

"In doing research, by accident I found the pilgrimage, one of 200 every year in that region. It's called the 'Virgin Mary of the Candlelight' for the possibility of shedding a ray of light in the middle of darkness, emblematic of cinema itself. At the pilgrimage Dora realizes the gravity of what she has been doing. When she enters that house where dozens pray for relatives, we see little pictures on the wall. Dora realizes those are the same people writing letters that never got sent, and she realizes the social gravity of her gestures, how unethical she's been. This is why she gets dizzier and dizzier until she faints. From that moment on is Dora's rebirth, an impossibility had she not rediscovered affection with Josue, the transforming angel of the story.

"The letters at the beginning are not those in the screenplay. When we were preparing the first day at Central Station, we were surprised that real illiterate people who saw the table forgot the camera and asked if they could dictate letters. The outcome was totally unexpected emotional voltage, for those letters contain a raw poetry more moving than the letters we had written. I also wanted to show this wonderful human geography, to bring those faces to the audience, to see every wrinkle and eliminate the usual distance between the spectator and a human face on the screen. You see those closeups and know those people must send those letters for the survival of their own identity. This is when you realize what Dora does by not sending those letters is very serious. You've been close to those faces and realize they need to be heard.

"I think a film should also represent your time. The selling of organs exists, although it's not widespread in Brazil. And the incident of the station burglar executed on the tracks actually happened, two-and-a-half years ago. In the first part of the film, we don't evade such subjects, so in the second half we know exactly what needs to change -- primarily society's unfairness. This is why we didn't put veils in front of the camera in describing Central Station and the urban chaos in Brazil, so as the road movie develops, we know what needs to be transformed.

"Those settlements are indicative of the situation where -- again, due to the mechanization of a culture -- people have nowhere to go. So the government invents housing systems to park people in a no-man's-land. Although the houses at first seem decent, there are no economic possibilities in those regions. Ultimately those who go there, little by little, abandon those areas for big cities like Rio. Without a proper education, they probably don't know how to read and write, and become Dora's clients. This is a problem of internal exile and internal immigration.

"On the ending, if Josue had found his father, the film would become sentimental and all the questions would be answered. Although I wanted an optimistic and life-affirmative film, I wanted to leave a question: Will those characters who have found the possibility of sharing and finding love be granted an absolutely perfect future? I don't know. But they have been healed from the wounds of the past and have the right to a second chance they never thought they'd enjoy. This is also what the film is about -- being granted a second chance although everything seems contrary to it.

"This connects to Vinicius de Oliveira (who plays Josue), one of the few cases in the history of cinema when the actor found the director. I needed a boy who knew what the battle of survival in the streets meant but who hadn't lost his innocence. During 11 months, we did 1,500 auditions and found either overprotected middle-class kids totally ignorant of what happens outside their apartments or kids at 9 or 10 who had totally lost the sparkle in their eyes, and that's very sad. Finally, at the Rio airport, it's 7 a.m. and a little kid comes to me and says, 'Hi, I'm the shoeshine boy and no one wants to do a shoeshine today because it's raining and neither will you because you're wearing sneakers. But maybe we can make a deal. If you lend me two bucks so I can eat, when you're back from your journey, you find me here. I work seven days a week, 12 hours a day, and I'll pay you back.'

"I was instantly drawn by the profound density of his eyes. He didn't blink; he seemed so honest and direct I couldn't refrain from telling him he had to do a film test. After he thought for a minute, he said this was not possible because he can't do something he had never seen -- he had never been to the cinema. I insisted and he came, bringing other airport shoeshine boys so everyone could have a chance. He was by far the one who had the gift, who understood Josue's plight and what his ordeal meant."

Central Station opens Feb. 5 at the Plaza Frontenac.

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