One of the first films I absolutely have to discuss is Central Station or shall I say Central Do Brasil. This film is set in Brazil and is entirely done in the Portuguese language. Now who does not enjoy watching films in subtitles? Really though, hearing the language teaches you about the cultural aspects of the film. Now I can go on about everything I learned about the cultural aspects of the film, but what really got my attention were all the elements of cinematography that were used to present the experiences and viewpoints of the characters. What is cinematography, you ask? Just think of it as writing in movement. Usually when we think of films, we think of what is known as the mise-en-scene, or everything that is in front of the camera. We think of the props, the costumes, and the settings. In the old days, yes, this was all that film was. Today, filmmakers are using many more elements that influence what we as viewers see. This includes the movement of the camera, the placement of the camera, contrast, the use of color, the angle of the shot, the type of shot and the duration of the shot. Well you get the picture. Film goes farther beyond what we as viewers actually see.
So how does this play into Central Station? Easy. Pretty much every scene uses some form of cinematography. One of the first scenes in the film particularly stood out to me in terms of its cinematography. Now we all know Josue, the nine-year-old male lead. He suffers from a tragic event when he witnesses his mother being hit by a bus. This scene is incredibly intense. We as viewers feel this intensity, but we never consider what actually makes it intense. For starters, right before the bus hits his mother, the camera shoots a close-up of Josue’s face and then a close-up of his mother’s face. These close-ups are a type of shot and they show the viewer the expression of the characters. Obviously we know something bad is about to happen and that Josue will be deeply affected by it. These short shots, or the duration of the shots, build up the intensity of the moment. The camera continues to cut back and forth between both characters making the scene seem fast-paced, again adding to the intensity.
Another important element is Josue’s point of view. Like I mentioned before, the close-ups on Josue’s face are meant to show how Josue is feeling. The camera is also kept at Josue’s height, which is a framing technique. Framing defines the image we see and directs our attention to the material in the image. When we are kept at Josue’s height, we feel like we are seeing everything in his perspective. We are not looking down on him and we are not looking up at him. We are at his level. You can tell we are at his level because all the adults around him are being cut off at the shoulders. Even when Josue leans down to see if his mother is alright, the camera is lowered along with him. This keeps our attention on Josue and lets us see things the way he does. So why does the film maker want us to see things through Josue? We are supposed to understand the pain and sadness that Josue goes through, which sets us up for the rest of the story.
The next scene shows Josue sitting in Central Station. He has tears running down his face and he is alone. The lighting and color are extremely noticeable here. All the people walking around him look almost blue, while Josue has a bright light being cast on him. This is also a great example of contrast, another element of cinematography. It makes him stand out among all the other people in the station. The viewer’s eyes are directed right at Josue for being the most colorful and bright object. Finally, during this scene there is depth of field. Depth of field is the measurements of the closest and farthest planes in front of the camera lens. Everything of significance in the scene is usually in sharp focus while everything else is blurred out. In this scene, Josue remains in sharp focus while those around him are being blurred out. This, like the lighting, makes him stand out. The film makers obviously wanted Josue to be the most significant object in this scene. This leaves the viewers to be saddened by Josue’s situation and to be concerned about him. It also makes them wonder what is to happen to Josue because he is now alone and has nowhere to go.
So that is it. We covered certain types of shots, framing, depth of field, the duration of the shot, contrast, color and lighting. There is still so many elements of cinematography in this film, however, that really influence its meaning. You can probably write a book on it. For the sake of showing an example of cinematography usage and how powerful this film is because of it, I will leave it at that and allow you to think of other elements as you watch the film. Even as you watch other films, think about what the camera is doing, the lighting being used and the framing of the shots. If you do not do this, you still get the exact message the film makers want you to get just by the influence of these elements. If they were any different in Central Station than were already presented, the film would be completely different.