The 1998 Brazilian-French movie “Central Station,” directed by Brazilian filmmaker Walter Salles, tells the heartwarming story of a boy’s friendship with a bitter former school teacher. The film, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, featured one of the most acclaimed Brazilian actresses of all time, Fernanda Montenegro, and an impoverished boy, who once worked as a shoe shiner.
One morning in 1996, while film director Walter Salles was at the railway station in Rio de Janeiro to catch a train, he was approached by a young shoeshine boy, who offered to polish his shoes. Salles looked down at his shoes. Realizing his shoes were still clean, he declined the boy’s offer and made a rush to the train platform.
Being rejected of his service, the boy was rather embarrassed. However, out of desperation, he mustered up the courage to chase after him and asked, “Sir, I have not eaten anything all day, could I possibly borrow some money?”
The boy promised to return the money to him after saving what he had earned from polishing shoes. Hearing his request, Salles stopped in his tracks and fixed his gaze on the boy—he was thin and shabbily dressed.
“Just another scammer on the street,” Salles thought. Yet, he still dug into his pocket to pull out some change for him.
The boy kept the change and ran away after thanking Salles. Salles believed he would never see that money again, and he gradually forgot about the shoeshine boy. But several weeks later, he met the boy again at the station.
That day, just before Salles boarded his train, he heard a young voice calling from behind, “Sir, wait a minute please!”
Looking back, he caught sight of the same skinny shoeshine boy he had encountered a few weeks back. The boy ran after him. As he caught up, he said to Salles, panting, “I have been waiting to see you again at the station for quite a while.”
Unexpectedly, the boy handed him the money he had borrowed. Salles was impressed by the boy’s honesty, as well as his pure and innocent heart. Suddenly, he struck on an idea.
At that time, Salles was drawing up plans to shoot his feature film “Central Station”—the story of an older woman who runs into a boy at Rio’s train station and later embarks on a quest with the boy to search for his father.
Actress Fernanda Montenegro took on the task to play the woman, Dora, but Salles had yet to find a suitable child to play the boy after meeting at least 100 potential child actors from all acting schools.
Seeing the truthful, innocent, and ragged shoeshine boy standing in front of him, Salles knew he would be an ideal person to portray the main role of the movie.
He returned the money to the boy and said, “Take the money back.” Instead, he had a request, “I’ll have something much better waiting for you that will bring you great joy.”
He wanted the shoeshine boy, named Vinicius de Oliveira, to come to his office the next day to do a screen test. The next day, Vinicius turned up at Salles’s office with his friends, who were also wandering the streets working as shoe shiners.
Vinicius hoped his friends would get the chance to “find great joy” as well. Once again, Salles was touched by the innocent boy’s kindness and magnanimity. He was convinced the boy possessed the qualities of Josue, and picked him to act the role without going through an audition.
“I was looking for a boy who knew what the battle for survival was, but who had not lost his innocence in doing so,” Salles said.
The untrained actor Vinicius went on to act as 9-year-old Josue and made his debut on “Central Station.”
“Central Station” turned out to be a huge success.
The movie garnered great response in acclaimed film festivals and won many awards, including the Foreign Language Film at the 56th Golden Globe Awards and 52nd British Academy Film Awards.
Vinicius, now 33, is an aspiring film director, who has reportedly set up a film company of his own.
On the cover of his autobiography “My Life of Acting,” Vinicius wrote: “Thanks to my kindness, I was exempt from casting. Out of my kindness, I save opportunities for others, but also for that reason, life treats me so well.”
Can you believe that Vinicius, a penniless boy who was earning his keep by polishing shoes for commuters, has made a complete 180-degree turn in his life—all because of his kindness, honesty, and pure-heartedness?
The beautiful tale of actor Vinicius de Oliveira shows us that virtuous deeds will be met with rich rewards, and blessed are those who remain pure at heart.