We’ve put together a list of 6 dynamic Brazilian movies to learn about social issues in Brazil and improving your Portuguese. All the titles were produced in the 2000s and directed by some of Brazil’s best cinematographers. This includes Kleber Mendonça Filho (Cannes Jury Prize 2019), Fernando Meirelles (who also directed The Two Popes in 2019) and Brazilian actor Wagner Moura‘s (Netflix series Pablo Escobar) directing debut.
You may also like our The Big List of Brazilian Documentaries.
They are hunting you. Do you run or do you fight back?
Bacurau is a fictional thriller that takes place in a remote village in the State of Pernambuco. The movie begins as our protagonist drives along a dirt road in the remote sertão, a dry dessert of in Northeastern Brazil. She passes a broken-down truck that blocks the road. It’s the first sign that the hunters have disconnected the village of Bacurau from the outside world.
Days later the phone signal cuts out and a systematic massacre hits the village.
The hunt begins.
You do not have to be a grindhouse scholar to recognize the way the Filho and Dornelles are using a termite-art vocabulary to attack a bigger-picture sense of injustice.David Fear for RollingStone Magazine
Why watch Bacurau?
At first glance, Bacurau is a violent horror movie that drags you into the bloody massacre of a local war. However, there’s enough symbolism under the visage of a manhunt to write a thesis. From US and foreign intervention into the affairs of Brazil, to the prejudice against Northeastern Brazilians within the country itself. This is set to be the one of the most successful Brazilian movies since City of God.
Watch this movie for a Quentin Tarantino Brazilian alternative and go in with an open mind.
Where to watch Bacurau?
Currently Bacurau is available for rent for $3.99 from Google Play, YouTube or Amazon Prime.
A different manhunt, this time the DOPS (Department of Political and Social Order Police) are hunting enemies of the State. Marighella was an ex-congressman, who brazenly voiced his opposition to the military coup in 1964. Carlos Marighella became a figurehead for Brazilian guerrilla fighters writing the book Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla. The movie follows the demise of each of Marighella’s companions and the brutality used during this foreign-backed dictatorship (USA and UK). We watch violence from both sides of the coin, but the film openly displays a bias in favour of the Marighella guerrillas.
Why watch Marighella?
The Brazilian dictatorship lasted 21 years and was propped up by foreign secret forces (UK and USA). It’s often cast as a “light dictatorship” because of low death rates, but who did oppose the government were harshly repressed. Many citizens suffered passive aggression, rejected from work opportunities and expelled from the job market. Prominent figures were exiled or self-exiled (Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, ex-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso) and others tortured (ex-president Dilma Rousseff). This movie however, focuses on the nucleus of the most active guerrilla fighters, called the Ação Libertadora Nacional (National Liberation Action).
The movie features Brazilian musician Seu Jorge as Marighella. Although Marighella screened in festivals around the world, it suffered censorship in Brazil. The film is supposedly due to be released in Brazilian cinemas later this year (2020).
Where to watch the Brazilian movie Marighella?
At the moment Marighella is not available to buy or rent! We will update this page as soon as it becomes available.
Clara lives in Recife in her home on the ground floor of an old apartment block. She is 65, a retired musician and her property is on prime real estate, paces from the beach. Millionaire developers are systematically evicting Clara from her home to clear space for a new complex. She is the last resident left on the premises.
But this widow will not go down without a fight. Unfortunately, the battle between Clara and the young US-educated Brazilian developer, turns from passive aggressive to overt foul play.
The underlying story imitates the systematic expulsion of ex-President Dilma Rousseff in 2016. The first and only female president of Brazil. An impeachment that many Brazilians still consider a coup d’état.
A free spirit is tangled up in the political forces paralleling modern-day Brazil in this work from Kleber Mendonça FilhoA.O Scott for The New York Times
Why watch Aquarius?
As well as being a beautiful depiction of life in the capital of Pernambuco, Aquarius is a balance between the old and new in Brazil. The new ideas tearing out old ways of life. But it is also a dialogue of the aggression against the ex-president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff in an impeachment trial backed by external forces and the country’s elite. There are numerous layers to this movie. From Dilma’s attempts at removing deeply ingrained institutions in favour of a more equal society, to the Brazilian elites valuing US education and mindset over their own culture. The soundtrack is electrifying and Sonia Braga is still one of Brazil’s most prolific actresses.
Where to watch the Brazilian movie Aquarius?
Que Horas Ela Volta? 2015
Que Horas Ela Volta? shows the clash between social classes in Brazil. The Brazilian services sector has always been incredibly cheap, meaning it is common place for middle-class families to have nannies and maids. Que Horas Ela Volta? depicts the disruption in class structures as the daughter of a maid of a family in São Paulo visits to take the entrance exam for the best university in Brazil.
The daughter is revolted that her mother is treated as second-class citizen. Her mother sees it differently. She has a deep love for her employer’s children, who she raised. The film also shows the confrontation between the employers and the daughter over the prospect of lower classes entering into a traditionally elitist sphere (public universities).
All the elements of the story fit impeccably together for a humorous and occasionally wrenching examination of relationships.Stephanie Merry for The Washington Post
Why watch it Que Horas Ela Volta?
Brazil is an emerging power, but the lower classes have not yet benefited significantly from this progress. They remain the working force that props up the rich. This movie addressing the underlying classist behaviors of the wealthy. Structures are changing and Brazil will eventually cast off the serfdom structure of the past. The movie also however, addresses more subtle problems of parenting in Brazil. Why should one mother leave her child to be raised by someone else, while she spends her time raising her employer’s children?
Where to watch Que Horas Ela Volta?
You can watch this movie via YouTube, Google Play or Amazon Prime for $2.99. Or stream it with subscription to Hulu, Vudu or with your university or public library login to Kanopy. The title in English is “The Second Mother.”
Carandiru tells the true story of a prison rebellion that resulted in 111 deaths, in São Paulo in 1992. The facility was a detention centre housing 2069 people who were awaiting trial. This movie narrates the backstory of several of the inmates and ends with the reenactment of the massacre.
Babenco manages to overcome the downbeat nature of his subject matter, lacing it with humour, melodrama and romance.Alex Bellos for Screenplay Daily
Why watch Carandiru?
The prison system in Brazil is in dire need of reform. Most prisons are overcrowded, gangs control the prisons and often convicts become more entwined with crime inside the prison than before. Rebellions and massacres are common. Though the Carandiru massacre happened in 1992, in 2019 62 prisoners died in a prison riot in the state of Pará.
Where to watch Carandiru?
Currently you can’t stream this movie legally, but the DVD of Caranduri is available on Amazon.
Cidade de Deus (City of God) : 2002
One of the most celebrated Brazilian movies, Cidade de Deus tracks the development of a notorious favela on the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. We follow an amateur photographer as he captures favela life through a lens. The cinematography of this movie is excellent. It is laced with humour, heartbreak, brutality and studded with stunning nature of Rio de Janeiro.
This is the story of the destructive native of drug traffickers’ egos. It also highlights that the system aggravates the marginalisation of favela communities.
At once a laboratory for cinema technique and a victory for raw heart, this is a snot-nosed, blood-stained masterpiece.Colin Kennedy for Empire Magazine
Why watch it City of God?
This is a cinematic piece of genius. City of God paints the historical picture of the factors complicating the favelas’ development. Absence of government, lack of opportunities, recruitment of young boys to gangs, police indifference and authority corruption. It tracks the City of God Favela beginning from its inception in 1960s, when the government demolished many illegal settlements in the city’s affluent neighborhoods.
Where to watch the Brazilian movie City of God?
You can stream City of God for $3.99 from Amazon Prime, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu or GooglePlay.