Video Picks Archive

July 21, 1999
This Week's Video Picks
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This week my picks are Central do Brasil (Central Station) (1998 - ) and Les MisÚrables (1935 - ).

The first film stars Fernanda Montenegro as Dora, an old spinster who works as a letter writer in a big train station in Rio de Janiero. One of her customers, a woman with a nine-year-old boy, is killed by a speeding bus. Dora takes this boy (VinÝcius de Oliveira) to an orphanage after he spends several days at the station alone, and she can no longer bear to see him suffer. After being convinced by her friend, she steals the boy away from the orphanage, and takes him on a long journey to his estranged father in the country. An unlikely bond develops between the depressed, mischievous boy and this cynical woman. A wonderful film that was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, but unjustly lost to La vita Ŕ bella (Life is Beautiful). Montenegro was also nominated for Best Actress, but I could not begrudge Gwyneth Paltrow. It did win the British Academy Award and the Golden Globe for the respective foreign-language categories.

Central Station reminded me very much of the Victor Hugo novel on which the second film was based. Les MisÚrables has been filmed more than almost any other novel. A musical based on it has been playing around the world since the mid 1980's. The best English-language film version was made in 1935 by director Richard Boleslawski. A dream cast includes the great Charles Laughton as Inspector Javert, and Fredric March as Jean Valjean, a convict who broke parole to become a wealthy businessman. A woman is fired from his factory because of a young daughter she had out of wedlock. She becomes a prostitute and eventually dies while in the care of a guilty Valjean. He promises her that he will raise the girl as his own. Nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, it lost to another classic Laughton Film, Mutiny on the Bounty. An interesting bit of trivia about the novel: Hugo wrote his publisher a letter asking about the first printing's success. The letter contained only the character "?"; the response was simply "!" -- an immediate hit whose popularity lives on.


For more information, visit the Internet Movie Database:
Central do Brasil (1998)
Les MisÚrables (1935)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Central Station (1998) - English subtitles -- VHS
Central Station (1998) -- DVD
Central Station: Original Soundtrack -- Compact Disc
Les MisÚrables (1935) -- VHS
Les MisÚrables, a novel by Victor Hugo -- Hardcover (Unabridged translation by Charles E. Wilbour)
Les MisÚrables, a novel by Victor Hugo -- Paperback (Unabridged translation by Lee Fahnestock)
Les MisÚrables, a novel by Victor Hugo -- Audio CD (read by Bill Homewood - translator unknown)
Les MisÚrables, a novel by Victor Hugo -- Audio Cassette (read by Michael York - translation by Charles E. Wilbour)


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Capsule Reviews © 1999 Matt Heffernan