Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Director/writer Walter Salles Jr. spearheaded the return of Brazilian cinema to international prominence in the latter half of the 1990s, particularly with his esteemed hit Central Station (1998). Born in Rio de Janeiro, the son of a well-heeled banker, Salles was raised in France and the United States before Brazil became his permanent home during his teens. Salles entered the Brazilian film industry as an award-winning documentary filmmaker during the industry’s 1980s/early-‘90s decline.
After he moved to fiction with the thriller Exposure (1991), Salles’ feature career was stalled by Brazil’s disastrous economic freeze in the first half of the 1990s. Though he remained active by making documentaries for European television, Salles opted to stay in Brazil and made one of the first key films in the industry’s resurgence, Foreign Land (1995). Co-directed by Daniela Thomas, the internationally acclaimed Foreign Land addressed the fallout from Brazil’s economy through a mystery yarn set in Brazil and Portugal, as one man’s financial desperation sets the plot in motion. Salles’ next film, Central Station, helped seal Brazilian cinema’s revival. Inspired by his documentary Life Somewhere Else (1995), partly funded by a Sundance Film Institute award and shot by a neophyte film crew, Central Station’s metaphorical road story unstintingly revealed the harsh effects of Brazil’s poverty while mining profound emotion from the reluctant relationship between Fernanda Montenegro’s cynical letter writer Dora and motherless innocent Vinicius de Oliviera. A festival smash and international hit, Central Station won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival and received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, while stage star Montenegro earned several critics’ and festival awards and a Best Actress Oscar nod for her restrained performance. Collaborating again with Thomas, Salles followed up his breakthrough success with the millennial tale Midnight (1998), part of the 2000 Seen By… series for the French-German television station Arte that also included films by film festival favorites Hal Hartley and Alain Berline.