Life is so confusing.
Whom do you trust, for example, an Oscar-nominated Brazilian movie or a low-IQ newscast in Los Angeles?
Which is the real Rio de Janeiro, in other words, the gray, smudged, impersonal urbanscape of "Central Station" or "the sexiest city on Earth" touted by KABC's "Eyewitness News"?
And finally, what does one heavily promoted three-minute story, inserted to snag a larger ratings sweeps audience, say about stereotyping of foreigners in local newscasts?
"Central Station" is Walter Salles' lovely, profoundly moving and agonizing film that is getting some deserved attention now that it's up for an Academy Award in the foreign-language category and its star, the marvelous Fernanda Montenegro, is nominated for best actress.
Set partly in Rio--whose glamorous curve of beachfront hotels is a staple of travel posters--the movie is about an evolving union between the 60ish Dora (Montenegro) and a 10-year-old named Josue (Vinicius de Oliveira), whom she treats cruelly after his mother's death releases him to the streets.
He's resilient but vulnerable. She's selfish, cynical, heartless and weary, a retired single schoolteacher who spends her days among the homeless and the hustlers in Rio's cavernous main railroad terminal, earning her meager living writing letters for the illiterate, which instead of mailing she destroys or lets pile up in the tiny flat that she comes home to.
It's no mystery why Oscar jurors were impressed by "Central Station." Yet they should have checked first with the worldly journalists at KABC, whose vision of Rio doesn't quite square with the movie's.
"An Eyewitness Extra!" anchor Laura Diaz announced just before Tuesday's 11 p.m. newscast. "The secret to the beautiful bodies of Rio!"
As revealed by the "Eyewitness News" Bod Squad.
Soon came a titillating tease befitting the February ratings sweeps it was designed for. "It is the sexiest city on Earth," Diaz read from a script while viewers watched a heavily greased female wiggle provocatively with much more flesh than clothes showing. "Find out, Diaz added, "why people the world over are heading to Rio."
Find out in about 25 minutes, after weather and sports, that is.
And did the people "heading to Rio" include the destitute lower classes said to be emigrating there en masse from the northeast? No, but, well, ahem, maybe "Eyewitness News" will get to them in the May sweeps.
Instead Diaz introduced a story focusing on cosmetic surgery: "Pablo Pereira lets us in on how thousands are getting beautiful in Rio." Then came the words of Pereira, spoken over pictures of seafront cavorting in a Rio that he called "home to beautiful beaches and beautiful bodies." He added: "Few people have the lust for life as [do] Brazilians."
There's lust for nothing but survival in the Dora whom Salles introduces and later sends into the interior with Josue. They and the hard knocks of "Central Station" occupy a different universe than the one pictured by KABC.
Not that the "beautiful bodies" of KABC's Rio don't actually exist as a small minority and a facile, familiar story just waiting to be showcased. But they are nowhere to be seen in the Rio of "Central Station," whose vast bleakness is likely more representative of a city known for its hard living, violent crime, cesspools of poverty and slums and roaming Josues who are treated like vermin during short life spans of petty thievery. In one scene in the movie, a teenager who steals in the station is chased down and shot dead with Dora and no one else caring, as if he were as expendable as the excess baggage under some of the eyes beautified by Rio's cosmetic surgeons.
KABC Prefers to Focus on the Sexy Beach Scene
How surreal the Brazil of "Central Station" must look to an ethnocentric U.S., which--TV-covered hot spots notwithstanding--is largely ignorant of the rest of the globe when it comes to peeling back easy symbols and examining what's beneath. No wonder so many Americans appear uncomfortable with the unfamiliar.
Knowing this, KABC made Brazil more palatable by dwelling on a scrap of Rio--the beaches, bikinis and butts--that would come across as another Southern California that its viewers could beasily relate to. The body part it didn't examine was Rio's underbelly.
Titled the "father of plastic surgery," 72-year-old Dr. Ivo Pitanguy was interviewed by Pereira, as was an aspiring Southern California model who had returned to her native Brazil to "fix" her nose and breasts.
But "the national obsession in Brazil is not with what's up top," Pereira reported, "but with what's behind." Then came some bikini butt shots and a chat with a pair of male auto mechanics weighing in on other parts of the female anatomy: "I like the breasts, I like the legs. . . . "
The scene recalled a "60 Minutes" piece of a few years ago reporting on the perils of a Brazilian "machismo" that included a reported tolerance of violence against women extending even to murder.