Part of the joy of thinking of cinema as a universal language is the way it can actually help you connect with local cultures you may not otherwise have had the chance to visit. And while we’d never assert that watching Brazilian flicks is anywhere near as fascinating as traveling to Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, there are definitely worse ways to make use of Netflix’s slate of foreign titles.We know that what’s available on Netflix is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tackling Brazilian film history — it all skews rather modern, with much of the movies offered being from the 21st century. But it’s a start.
So in case you wanted to see what to watch after catching the City of God (which is, as we note below, readily available and remains the most high profile crossover hit of the century), consider these other 14 titles your very own intro to the South American country’s treasure trove of contemporary flicks. Whether you’re looking for sweet LGBT dramas, Sonia Braga star-vehicles, or a soccer documentary, we’ve got you covered. Check them out below.
This coming-of-age film by writer-director Fellipe Barbosa (Laura) tells the story of 17-year-old Jean (newcomer Thales Cavalcanti), whose privileged life in Brazil begins to unravel as he gets ready for college. Financial and personal problems in his family and a new love interest begin to affect his future.
Ó Paí, Ó
It is the last day of the most famous carnival in the world and a group of residents of Pelourinho, the historical center of Salvador, Bahia, living in a run-down tenement house are ready to have fun. They may not have the means, but that won’t stop them from embracing the vibrancy of Brazil’s carnival. Starring Narcos‘ Wagner Moura and a star turn by Lázaro Ramos (who went on to reprise his role of Roque in Globo’s television spinoff), Ó Paí, Ó is a colorful and music-infused celebration of life among fabulous friends.
Clara (a luminous Sonia Braga) is the last resident of the Aquarius, an classic art deco building built in Recife’s upper-class Boa Viagem Avenue. Despite being offered a good deal for her apartment by developers, this spry 65-year old is not ready to part from the place she’s made her home and where she raised her children. The construction company, which is intent on building a New Aquarius, begins implementing increasingly aggressive methods to get the former music critic to sell. But all this drama creates for Clara is a renewed sense of vigor that pushes her to think back to her life lived and to embrace her her present-day vitality.
Boi neon follows Iremar (Juliano Cazarré), a handsome cowboy who dreams of becoming a fashion designer and spends his free time dreaming up ever more fabulous outfits to create. But don’t let that simple description fool you. Gabriel Mascaro’s character study, shot with a watchful eye that borrows its visual grammar from nonfiction filmmaking (aided by his work with nonprofessional actors), is a road trip film set in the northeast Brazilian countryside. But it is also an explosion of gender, class, and sexuality, flamboyantly portraying its lustful characters with quiet (and borderline queer) compassion and culminating with one of the most indelible sex scenes put on screen in recent memory.
Hoje eu quero voltar sozinho
Brazil’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Film category for the 2015 Academy Awards, this dramatic romance stars Ghilherme Lobo as Leonardo, a blind teenager who wants to study abroad but has one big obstacle, his overprotective mother. When new kid Gabriel shows up at school, drawing the attraction of both he and his best girlfriend, Leonardo’s world is turned upside down. A jubilant portrait of young gay love, this assured debut feature tenderly parses the terrain of growing up different in more ways than one. The film won two major awards at the Berlin International Film Festival this year and has been screened across the world at a number of LGBT film festivals, including L.A. Outfest and the Lesbian and Gay Film Festivals in New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Toronto.
Cidade de deus
Like the plucky little chicken that escapes death despite all odds in the film’s opening scene, so do a lot of the street kids depicted in Cidade de deus (City of God) get by on bravado and dumb luck in the tough favelas of Brazil. But mostly they die since their guns are not the make believe ones of child’s play but the real deal on the mean city streets of Cidade de deus, an incredibly rough favela on the edge of Rio. Rocket, a budding photographer whose way out lies in his camera rather than the gun, narrates the story of the gangs of children and youth he grows up with, armed to the teeth, who thieve and threaten their way through daily life to survive in a place that holds no other options. Ignored by the cops and social services their lives and livelihoods grow harder as petty pot dealing turns to major drug trafficking and the stakes get higher. With clever narration by Rocket that works in counterpoint to the violence onscreen, a soundtrack that makes shootouts seem like dance sequences, and virtuoso editing and cinematography that shows the Carnival-like craziness of these little kids larger-than-life lives of crime, Cidade de deus is a hyper-original epic of tragic proportions.
Cidade de Deus: 10 Anos Depois
When City of God was released in 2002 it became a worldwide sensation. The favela-set drug and crime thriller from Fernando Meirelles (co-directed by Kátia Lund) focused on the Cidade de Deus neighborhood and used mostly non-professional actors to tell its gripping story. The celebrated flick toured the world’s film festivals and eventually earned four Oscar nominations. Ten years later, documentarians Cavi Borges and Luciano Vidiga have caught up with 18 of the original performers in Meirelles’s project to see how their lives have been affected by their involvement in the project. As a look into the way the community was portrayed and impacted by the on-screen grisly violence as well as a behind-the-scenes look at Brazil’s film and television industry, City of God: 10 Years Later is a must-watch for fans of one of Brazil’s most famous twenty-first century features.
Described as “The Shining meets a Vittoria de Sica film,” Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas’ horror film follows Helena, a young housewife who’s about to fulfill her dream: opening a neighborhood grocery store. But when her husband loses his job and she finds herself becoming the sole breadwinner things start to spiral out of control. Every blemish and building problem she encounters as she opens the store sends her into a slow simmer of a panic, which we slowly realize will end in true horror film fashion.
Ventos de Agosto
Brazil’s tropical coastline provides the stunning backdrop to documentary director Mascaro’s first dramatic film, which unfurls as a series of revealing accounts in the lives of Shirley and her boyfriend Jeison. When the latter finds a human skull while dive-fishing, it sets in motion a meditative sashay through themes of life and death, most poetically summed up by an elderly man: “Those who die here don’t end up in heaven or hell. They end up in the sea.” It is just one moment that captures the relationship between people and their environment, with the inevitability of death returning us to the elements from which we emerge. A mesmerizing and beautiful portrait of our place in the greater order of things.
Saneamento Básico, O Filme
A small community of descendants of Italian immigrants in the interior of the state of Rio Grande do Sul discovers their town lacks funding for a sewage system. The townspeople decide to make a short sci-fi monster movie about the problem in hopes of bringing awareness and getting the money to fix it.
Mãe Só Há Uma
At seventeen, garage-band-playing bisexual Pierre is presented with a jarring, life-changing piece of information: he was stolen from the maternity ward as a child by the woman he’s called mother his whole life. His real name is Felipe, and his beloved younger sister is from another family entirely, as well. Now Pierre’s wealthy biological family wants him back and he is forced to adjust to living them as certain aspects of his personality become difficult to ignore
Mais Forte Que o Mundo
With dizzying camerawork, Alfonso Poyart’s Stronger than the World tells the story of UFC Featherweight champion, José Aldo. This Brazil-set biopic is a heart-pounding sports story that packs a punch as it chronicles how a young boy from Manaus went on to become a mixed-martial artist legend.
O Roubo da Taça
“Some of this actually happened,” the trailer for Jules and Dolores tells us. And it’s true. Back in 1983, the Jules Rimet Trophy (which Brazil had won in perpetuity after winning the World Cup for a third time) was stolen. Caito Ortiz’s retelling of this national tragedy is a farcical, soccer-themed riff on the heist film. It all begins with Peralta. The indebted gambler had hoped to steal the trophy’s replica to get enough money to satisfy the beautiful Dolores, but as he soon finds out, he and his happy-go-lucky buddy Borracha managed to steal the real deal. That’s when things begin to unravel and the laughs begin to pile on.
Netflix’s first original documentary in Portuguese one of Brazil’s most brilliant cartoonists: Laerte Coutinho. After near 60 years as a man, Coutinho introduces herself as a woman. Following her on this journey, Laerte-se posits questions about what it means to be a woman, especially once the question of whether she should have breast implants or not starts to crop up. Sprinkled with the playful cartoons she’s known for and filmed with the piquant humor she brings to the page, this is as much a film about creativity as it is about living one’s truth.
Campo de Jogo
This one’s for you fútbol fans out there. In Sunday Ball, Eryk Rocha has crafted a documentary about Rio’s “favela league” making its final match feel as urgent, fascinating, and nail-biting as the matches taking place that same summer is fancier stadiums when Brazil hosted the World Cup. With a camera that captures even the smallest plays on the field you’ll feel like you’ve never seen a soccer match quite like this one before, at once a celebration of the country’s fixation on the sport and the joy that it brings those who play it even in dust-filled fields.