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Film / Central Station

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Central Station (Central do Brasil) is a 1998 film from Brazil directed by Walter Salles.

Dora is a retired schoolteacher who helps make ends meet by writing letters for the illiterate people who cycle through Central Station, the train station in Rio de Janeiro. She is quite bitter and cynical, often not even bothering to mail the letters that she writes down. She is also quite lonely, seeming to have no family and no friends other than her neighbor Irene.

One day a woman named Ana comes up to Dora's table, her little 9-year-old son Josue in tow. Ana has Dora write a letter to Josue's father, calling him a worthless drunkard but saying that their boy wants to see him anyway. She thinks again and has Dora write a second, softer letter, admitting to Dora that she wants to see her husband again even if he his a drunk. Dora the cynic thinks that Ana is ridiculous and stuffs the letter into the dead letter drawer in her desk at home.

The next day, Ana is run over and killed by a bus outside Central Station. Josue, with no other family or contacts, is instantly rendered a homeless urchin. Dora, seeing the boy sleeping in doorways at the train station, takes him home, but soon she sells him for 2000 Brazilian real (R$2000) to some underground baby brokers—who may actually be organ traffickers. In any case, after Irene gives Ana a tongue-lashing she rescues Josue. The second half of the film involves Dora and Josue going on a cross-country odyssey, trying to find his long-lost father.

Matheus Nachtergaele pops up near the end as Josue's half-brother Isaias.


  • Bittersweet Ending: On the one hand, Dora and Josue are both crying as she rides away on the bus, she having left him with his brothers. On the other hand, Josue is now with a family who will take care of him.
  • Call-Back: Josue observes, with disapproval, that Dora doesn't wear makeup. At the end, before leaving Josue with his brothers, she puts on some lipstick, suggesting that she's taking a more positive outlook on life.
  • Double Don't Know: Dora and Josue are stuck in some dumpy town, flat broke and hungry after Josue left their bag with their money on the train. After Josue asks what they're going to do, Dora flips out and says "I don't know! I don't know! Your parents should never have had you!" She regrets it instantly but that doesn't stop Josue from running away.
  • Fainting: Dora's stress and panic after chasing Josue, when he runs away from her through a religious procession, ends in her fainting.
  • Five-Finger Discount: Josue steals a bunch of food from a truck stop. Dora yells at him, says his mother would be ashamed, then goes into the truck stop and steals even more.
  • Glasses Pull: Dora, when Ana is hit by a bus in the street. Justified In-Universe as Dora appears to be wearing reading glasses.
  • Human Traffickers: The best-case scenario is that Yolanda and her creepy boyfriend, the couple who buy Josue, are engaging in black market adoptions. However Irene points out that Josue is too old to be adopted and that Yolanda is probably involved in organ harvesting.
  • Lady Drunk: Dora doesn't appear to be a full-blown alcoholic but she is prone to getting drunk and maudlin, like when she's chugging liquor straight from the bottle while riding the bus, and talking about how her father abandoned her family. After she passes out, Josue drinks from the same bottle and also gets drunk.
  • Lap Pillow: After fainting dead away the night before, Dora wakes up with her head on Josue's lap, showing their growing bond.
  • Match Cut: An audio match cut, from Dora theatrically tearing up a letter, to the hiss of steam as a train's doors open at the station.
  • Never Learned to Read: Apparently the illiterate population in Brazil is large enough that Dora can eke out a meager living transcribing letters at the train station. Josue's older half-brothers Isaias and Moises can't read either, so Dora has to read the last letter that their father sent them, some months ago.
  • Organ Theft: Dora was perfectly willing to sell Josue to some sketchy black-market adoption people, but Irene points out that 9-year-old Josue is too old to be adopted and that the people who bought him are probably engaged in organ harvesting. The film never definitively answers this, but when Dora returns to the apartment she finds Yolanda, who was chipper and wearing a bright red dress when she bought Josue, looking much more disheveled and suspicious.
  • The Place: Central Station, called in Portuguese "Central do Brasil", the heart of the Rio de Janeiro rail network. Dora meets Josue there.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Dora gets wrapped up in the life of little Josue and briefly becomes his guardian after his mother is run over by a bus.
  • Repeat After Me: Isaias challenges Josue to a tongue twister.
    Isaias: Say five times very quickly, "how now brown cow."
    Josue: Say five times very quickly, how now brown cow.
    Isaias: You dope!
  • Reveal Shot: After Dora just barely manages to extract Josue from Yolanda's apartment without getting killed, she calls Irene and says that "if a big guy with a mustache"—Yolanda's boyfriend—shows up, not to let him in. The camera then pans left to show Yolanda's boyfriend sitting on Irene's couch.
  • Significant Background Event: Dora sells Josue to a pair of black market baby brokers, and uses the money to buy a new TV. The show that appears on Dora's new TV is called "Topa Tudo Por Dinheiro"—"Do Anything For Money."
  • The Teetotaler: Cesar the genial truck driver, who refuses an offer of beer from Dora at the truck stop, saying that he's "an evangelist." Dora pushes the beer on him, which, when she follows by coming on way too strong, leads to him abandoning her and Josue moments later.