June 23, 2021

Central Station recalls Cassaventes’ `Gloria’

CENTRAL STATION. Directed by Walter Salles. Written by Joao Emanuel Carneiro and Marcos Bernstein. Running time: 115 minutes. Rated R (for language). In Portuguese with English subtitles. Nightly, Feb. 22-25, Railroad Square Cinema, Waterville.

For some, Walter Salles’ “Central Station” will undoubtedly recall John Cassavetes’ “Gloria,” the 1980 film (currently reprised by Sharon Stone) that featured the unlikely relationship of a tough New York blonde on the lam with a young, recently orphaned boy.

“Central Station” parallels Cassavetes’ film in that it features a similar relationship, yet it has none of the melodrama that gave Cassavetes’ film verve. For Salles, whose best films are his documentaries, the results are mixed: His film makes for a deeper, richer experience that traces the landscapes of the human heart while occasionally losing itself in moments of uninteresting introspection.

The film follows Dora (Fernanda Montenegro), a retired teacher who writes letters for Rio de Janeiro’s illiterate amid the city’s chaotic Central Station. She is a bitter, lonely cynic who never sends the letters she writes, instead choosing to throw them away and keep for herself the money she’s already collected for postage. For Salles, Dora is a representation of the city itself: hard as the asphalt, uneasy on the eyes, yet vulnerable to any unexpected shift in the hum of activity.

In Dora’s life, the shift comes when she meets Ana (Soia Lira) and her son Josue (Vinicius de Oliveira), who ask Dora to write a letter to Josue’s dead-beat dad. Soon after, Ana herself is dead, having been struck down by a city bus, thus leaving Josue an orphan — and Dora the opportunity to regain whatever shred of humanity she has left.

She doesn’t. Taking the boy home, she quickly sells him to an orphanage, counts her money with unabashed glee, and buys a brand new TV. No conscience there — until her friend, Irene (Marilia Pera), gives her one: “That’s not an orphanage you sold him to! They’ll kill the boy and sell his organs!”

And so begins Dora’s life on the run. She grudgingly steals the boy back, hustles them both onto a bus, and soon is forced to face herself, her choices, her past and her hardened heart as the film gives itself over to the uneven pleasures of a road movie.

On the surface, “Central Station” may appear to be just another film about an odd couple who find love for each other after an initial bout of hostility bordering on hatred. But Salles is too good a director to be so shallow, and his script — written by Joao Emanuel Carneiro and Marcos Bernstein — is hardly the stuff of confection.

Marked by its restraint, its subtlety and its two strong performances — the Academy Award-nominated Montenegro, and the remarkable, 10-year-old Oliveira — Salles’ film may wait too long to deliver its emotional wallop, but when it comes, it’s as unforgettable as the film’s bus-bound relationship.

Grade: B+

OFFICE SPACE. Written and directed by Mike Judge. Running time: 89 minutes. Rated R (for language and adult content).

Anyone who has ever worked in an office will relate to Mike Judge’s “Office Space,” a solid satire from the creator of the splendidly high-brow television shows “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “King of the Hill.”

The film’s focus is on white-collar slavery, which — as anyone knows who has been victimized by middle management — can be woefully ugly, yet also charged with comic possibilities.

Playing like a live-action version of the “Dilbert” comic strip, the film, which boasts a truly inspired opening, will remind some of “Clockwatchers,” a film about the hell of temporary employment in a full-time world. But “Office Space” suggests that full-time employees have it even worse: Their sentence isn’t temporary — it’s for life.

This is the kind of film that finds Jennifer Aniston being criticized for not wearing enough “flair” at her restaurant job, one character having to bear the humiliation of being named Michael Bolton, and three corporate computer grunts exacting revenge on a system that loves to deliver pink slips — but no respect.

As one character puts it, “Since I started working here, every single day has been worse than the day before, so that every day you see me is the worst day of my life.”

When he and his officemates beat a fax machine to pulp midway through, the vindication and the glory is not just theirs, but ours.

Grade: B

Christopher Smith is the Bangor Daily News film critic. His reviews appear each Monday in the NEWS. Each week on WLBZ’s “News Center 5:30 Today,” he reviews current feature films (Tuesdays), and what’s new and worth renting in video stores

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