BAM Best Picture Profile: Central Station (1998)
Each year, I try and improve the site, and also try to find a new an hopefully creative and fun way to countdown to the unveiling of the year’s BAM Awards. Last year, I posted most of the BAM Nominee and winner lists (Any omissions will be fixed this year). However, when I picked Django Unchained as the Best Picture of 2012 I then realized I had recent winner with no write-ups. I soon corrected that by translating a post and writing a series of my own. The thought was all films honored as Best Picture should have at least one piece dedicated to them. So I will through the month of December be posting write-ups on past winners.
Central Station (1997)
Central Station would be the first time the BAM Awards ventured to foreign soil to pick a Best Picture winner. However, maybe it’s more apropos to say that it ventured to soil foreign to the US. For I am a dual citizen of the US and Brazil. In fact, I first saw this film while visiting family in Brazil and I believe I later revisited it when I was back home.
It is so great, so big a hit and important enough that I did discuss whether or not it was the emblematic Brazilian film, first with regards to how the film was cast:
If you hire an amateur child from substandard living conditions you should, as Walter Salles did for Vinícius de Oliveira in Central Station, help improve their station in life. At that point you truly are picking a lottery winner rather than just casting a role.
Then about the film in general:
What of Central Station then? Central Station made quite a bit of money in the US. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actress. Brazil has more a pedigree on the high-end of world cinema than most would expect. What separates Brazil from most is the consistency of product and, of course, due to the dictatorship there was censorship and artists had to fend for themselves. Now, the government is more active in promoting the arts, the major studios have a presence in the country and so forth. Yet, the fact that Brazil has been up for the Oscar, is the only Latin American nation to win the Palme d’Or (O Pagador de Promessas) and has also scored at Berlin (Elite Squad) is not what is going to dictate the most Brazilian film. Those are just indicators of quality.
Therefore, what’s the quality of Central Station? It has memorable source music, it’s a heart-wrenching drama, it tells a tale of a letter-writer and poor illiterate boy. It crosses that divide and it check off a lot of the qualities I’m looking for in a film representative of Brazil. Not to mention that it’s named after the largest train station in the country, therefore it’s a metaphor for the country and the letter-writer hears many stories from people of all walks of life that are indicative of the country and its people. The blend that exists.
Central Station is one of a long list of, I believe, far more enduring films that didn’t win Best Foreign Language Film. It didn’t win because America had a momentary brain fever and decided to ignore the issues of suspension of disbelief and taste that had Benigni’s film win everything. I can’t say I didn’t fall under it at the time to an extent, but not such that I thought it should win.
However, thanks to that foreign language film nomination it did allow one of Brazil’s great actresses to be nominated for an Oscar and be seen on the world stage. Sure, I’m as cynical about the Oscars as anyone. Had it not been for my own opinion splitting with theirs so violently I wouldn’t have created my own awards, however, I still recognize that it’s a great show and of great significance.
Central Station is a moving an enduring film that has been renowned the world over. Although it may not have won many of the prizes it was up for it surely wasn’t a case of me reaching very far afield for a winner.