5 Must-see Brazilian movies

Brazil is not very popular for its cinema. Most of its audiovisual production is concentrated on dramatic soap operas, the telenovelas, exported and watched all over the world. Even though Brazilian cinema is not big, it does have its touching, exciting, astonishing and very well-directed movies, that may also give the spectator a quite authentic idea about Brazil and its culture.

The following list contains movies of different genres, moods and ages. The idea is to give you an overview of the Brazilian cinema, focusing on the best movies from different categories, ranging from the critical acclaimed to the underground ones. So pop some popcorn, wrap yourself in a blanket and enjoy it!

Central Station (Central do Brasil) –1998

What it is about: The movie was directed by Walter Salles, who has gained international recognition in the past years with movies such as The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) and On the Road (2012). It depicts an emotive journey of a former schoolteacher, Dora, who writes letters for illiterate people at Rio de Janeiro’s central station, Central do Brasil; and a young boy, Josué, whose illiterate mother sends letters through Dora to his father, who the boy has never met. When Josué’s mother dies in a car accident, Dora takes him to Brazilian northeast, to find his father.

Why it is worth seeing: One of the most critically acclaimed Brazilian movie. It was nominated to Academy Awards for Best Actress and Best Foreign Language Film, which was snatched by Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful that year. Central Station also won the Golden Bear, BAFTA and Golden Globe awards. Besides that, Fernanda Montenegro, who plays Dora, is simply amazing.

Drained (O Cheiro do Ralo) – 2006

What is it about: A low-budget movie, half drama and half dark comedy. Based on Lourenço Mutarelli’s homonymous novel and directed by Heitor Dhalia, Drained presents Lourenço, a lonely pawn shop owner. His work has made him insensitive to the suffering of those who desperately seek to sell him their personal possessions. Lourenço’s lack of emotions makes him deal with the world as a collection of objects to be bought. He begins to play power games with his customers, and derives pleasure from it.

Why it is worth seeing: This one is a personal choice. The story, especially all the psychological deepness concerning Lourenço’s job, is fascinating. It is a good movie if you want to go beyond most typical Brazilian movies themes, such as favelas and poorness, once it depicts a middle class guy’s life in São Paulo. It is also a high quality movie taking into account its tight budget – approximately U$D 150,000.

City of God (Cidade de Deus) – 2002

What it is about: In a lawless slum in Rio de Janeiro, City of God tells the story of Rocket, an aspiring photographer. The movie presents Rocket’s life as a young boy as he deals with his dodger brother and his gang all the way to his teen years. As criminality soars to brutal levels, Rocket begins to realize his work as a photographer is his only means of staying honest. With a psychopathic thug named “Lil Zé” looking to take over the slum, Rocket’s career will take him on his most dangerous task of all.

Why it is worth seeing: Directed by Fernando Meirelles, who also directed movies such as The Constant Gardener and Blindness, City of God is probably the most popular Brazilian film worldwide. Actually, it does live up to the expectations. The movie is technically and aesthetically a masterpiece, which resulted in four nominations to the Academy Awards and many other prizes. It also depicts quite well the tough and sad reality of life in Brazilian slums, specially how drug trafficking rules it.

The Salt of the Earth (O Sal da Terra) – 2014

What it is about: A biographical documentary that portrays the life and works of Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, directed by the German filmmaker Wim Wenders and Sebastião Salgado’s son, Juliano Salgado.

Why it is worth seeing: The list deserves at least one documentary, and by watching The Salt of the Earth it is possible to know the meticulous, monumental and beautiful journey of Sebastião Salgado in his last work “Genesis”. Salgado is known as a photographer specializing in depictions of humanity in extremes, and is probably the most acclaimed Brazilian photographer.

Entranced Earth (Terra em Transe) – 1967

What it is about: A Glauber Rocha’s masterpiece. In the hypothetical Latin-American country of Eldorado, the idealistic and anarchist poet and journalist Paulo Martins fights against the populist governor, Felipe Vieira, and the conservative president Porfirio Diaz, supported by revolutionary forces. Paulo is depressed, since the two corrupt politicians were his former friends and have been elected with his moral support.

Why it is worth seeing: This one is for cinephiles and fans of old-but-gold films. Glauber Rocha was a filmmaker way ahead of his time, often considered as one of the best of all times in Brazil. The film was censured and its exhibition forbidden in 1967 by the Brazilian military dictatorship, but screened and awarded in Cannes in the same year. Entranced Earth story is an acid critic to the dictatorial government of Brazil’s early 60’s.

  1. I’ve only watched the City of God out them all and got goosebumped from beginning till the end. Definitely would recommend!

      • Same! I guess most of us have watched City of God, which by the way is an amazing movie. I’ll eventually check out the others!

        By the way Natalia, congrats on your first article, loved it 🙂

  2. Hei,

    interesting article. i will watch those. But I wanted to mention that I totally loved “Trashed”, such an amazing movie 🙂 Just saying.

    Keep continuing with the great work !

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Natalia - São Paulo

Extremely curious and addicted to traveling. I'm a 23-year-old girl, born and raised in São Paulo. Explored South America, Europe and Southeast Asia in order to find the perfect spot to settle sometime in the future. Haven't found that yet, but ...

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