Walter Salles

Article Bio Works Video
identity, poverty
Film (documentary, feature film, roadmovie)
America, South
Rio de Janeiro
created on:
May 27, 2003
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Walter Salles
Walter Salles © Video Filmes


Getting to know the Other

Homelessness, exile, identity and the "discovery of the Andes" are the central themes of films by Walter Salles, who was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1956. His Brazilian road movie "Central do Brasil" was awarded many international prizes.
"The cinema is a wonderful way of getting to know the Other. It differs from you greatly at the beginning, but it is much nearer to you than they pretend." This statement by Walter Salles applies to all his films, but especially to his piece "Central do Brasil", which was created in 1997. On a journey through modern-day Brazil, two very different people get to know and like each other.
Dora, a retired teacher who earns her money writing letters in Rio de Janeiro´s Central station, joins the orphaned nine-year-old Josué on a journey right through Brazil in the search for his father. At the beginning of the journey they cannot stand each other, yet as time goes by, they develop affection and tenderness towards each other. By the end, both have learned much: Dora opens herself up to other people again and the boy accepts the loss of his father and finds his brothers. Salles places his protagonists´ search for their identity at the centre of his films. At the same time, however, he portrays the picturesque road movie as a metaphoric image of his homeland.

In "Central do Brasil", Walter Salles uses poetic imagery to tell the story of his country´s poverty and the condition of a society which is torn apart by personal interests. Dora too is only interested in the money she swindles from others every day. But Josué touches something inside her and she decides to help him. It is a road movie which reflects the sad social reality in Brazil in the face of neo-liberalism, but also makes the protagonists´ transformation tangible in laying down their cold feelings and experiencing sympathy for others. Large parts of the film seem documentary, whilst the sensitive portrayal of this unusual friendship also gives it a partially fairy-tale construction.

In Walter Salles’ last film, "Meia Notte" or "O Primero Dia", as it was first called, which was shot for ARTE "2000 vu par..." together with Daniela Thomas, two different people, and the worlds of Rio de Janeiro´s rich and poor, come together. Here too, Salles attempts to introduce extremes to each other. "Each side behaves as if the other didn´t at all exist, and actually no longer perceives it. But this is just a question of perspective. It is as if you had to squint to see Brazilian society as a whole. Thus one social class is created which does not communicate, even if people are in the same geographical space. In "Midnight", we wanted to make the non-functional dialogue begin to work again in a new medium, namely film."

In "Midnight", the convict João is given another chance. On the last day of the year, a simulated flight from prison gives him his freedom. He must, however, kill someone in return, his old friend Chico of all people. Meanwhile, the young girl Maria is left by her older boyfriend. She runs through the streets in despair, and smashes up her apartment. In impressive collages, "Meia Notte" shows the streets running through the megacity´s favelas. On top of and next to each other, miserable shacks tower around an endless labyrinth of steps and paths. The later flight from the contractors, who now also want to murder the killer, brings Maria and João together. In a climactic finale, in the torrent of light, shade and fireworks, the killer becomes a saviour. In his elation, he too believes that everything will be alright, that there will be no more killing in this city in the new millennium. For one short moment...

Events at the HKW:
14 August 1999
Cinema TriContinental
Major directors from Africa, Asia and Latin America
Central do Brasil / Central Station
Organiser: House of World Cultures


Walter Salles was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1956, the son of a diplomat, and now makes documentaries and feature films. He has won more prizes than any other young Brazilian director. He directed "Midnight" together with his close collaborator, Daniela Thomas, who is active both in theatre and film. His film "Terra Estrangeira" (1996), which was awarded seven international prizes and was also filmed together with Daniela Thomas in 1995, was a symbol of the resurgent Brazil cinema. In1996, Walter Salles was awarded the Golden FIPA Prize for "Soccorro Nobre", a documentary. His film "Central do Brasil" won many international prizes, including the Golden Bear for Best Film and the Silver Bear for Best Actress (Fernanda Monteneggro) in Berlin, for both of which they also received Oscar nominations. "Meia Notte", which was also produced together with Daniela Thomas, won several Latin American film prizes in 1999/2000.


O primero Dia – Meia Notte (Midnight)

Film / TV,

Central do Brasil

Film / TV,

Terra Estrangeira

Film / TV,

Soccorro Nobre

Film / TV,

Grande Arte – Exposure - The High Art of Killing

Film / TV,

Promotion Video

(Film "Central do Brasil", 1997)

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