Former documentary filmmaker Walter Salles (Foreign Land) directed this Brazilian-French road movie tracing the travels and travails of a young boy and an aging woman across the Brazilian landscape. In Rio de Janeiro's central railroad station, callous Dora (leading Brazilian stage/screen actress Fernanda Montenegro) works at a stand where she writes letters for a parade of poor and illiterate. Some of these remain undelivered because she chooses not to mail all of the letters. One of her customers is a woman whose nine-year-old son, Josue (Vinicius de Oliveira), hopes to see the father he has never met, but after the mother dictates two letters to the father, she's killed when hit by a bus. Since Josue is left homeless, Dora reluctantly takes him home to her small apartment overlooking the railroad tracks, where she sometimes spends time with her neighbor Irene (Marilia Pera). Dora places Josue with people who claim to find adoptive parents. When Irene informs her they actually sell children who are then killed for their organs, Dora rescues Josue, and the two board a bus. After a failed attempt to abandon Josue at a roadside stop, Dora and Josue hitch a ride from a religious truck driver. Failing to locate his father, they arrive penniless at a huge rural religious convocation, where Josue suggests Dora bring her letter-writing skills back into play. The notion works, and Dora profits by writing letters to saints for the more devout among the assembled multitudes. Continuing on, they arrive at a sprawling-mass housing development -- and hopefully, a solution to the problem of a family for Josue. Young actor de Oliveira was a shoeshine boy who beat out more than 1,500 other children who auditioned or were interviewed for the Josue role. Made with grants from the Sundance Institute, NHK, and the French Ministry of Culture, this film was shown at 1998 film festivals (Sundance, Berlin).
by Bhob Stewart synopsis