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Grab the Popcorn! 4 of Brazil’s Most Awe-Inspiring Films

hnds by Eliel Freitas Jr, Flickr

A country of contradictions and recently home to the FIFA World Cup, Brazil has had a turbulent past and still struggles with issues of crime and drugs today. You may have heard of the infamous favelas, or slums, that exist in cities like Rio de Janeiro, but do you have any idea what it’s like to live there? You may have studied some Portuguese, but have you heard the language used by locals from all societal levels? Here’s your chance to see more of what Brazil’s really like without leaving your couch!

City of God (2002)

City of God is a film that will leave you marked; your mind won’t be able to stop processing and returning to it long after you’ve finished watching it. The story spans over 20 years as we watch a young group of friends change and grow up in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.  Raised in poverty with gang leaders as role models, three childhood best friends struggle to live their lives. One boy, Li'l Zé, takes what he has learned about crime and applies it to his adult life, slowly gaining control of the city. Bené is Li'l Zé best friend and tries to keep him from tipping over the edge into pure evil. Rocket, the third friend doesn’t want to be involved in any wrong doing, and simply wants to pursue his passion for photography.  As the boys turn into men, everything gets wildly out of control and there’s real pain to be felt in their story.

The film is meant to be one of the most realistic filmatic interpretations of the slums in Brazil available. The story itself is based on true events, and it just might bring tears to your eyes. Pure, raw cinema, the movie showcases intense depictions of violence and bloodshed, though at no point are they gratuitous, as they help to tell the true story of this group of youngsters. A definite must-watch on this list of Brazilian cinema!

Did we like it? 5 out of 5 stars.

Think your Portuguese is good enough to ditch the subtitles? Test your language level for free here!

Elite Squad (2007)

This film, set in 1997 in Rio de Janeiro, focuses on the story of the Special Police Operation Battalion (or BOPE). The Pope is due to visit the city, and the BOPE have been tasked with cleaning up the favelas and the drug dealers that reside in them before the Pope arrives. The BOPE is lead by Captain Nascimento, who is ready to train some new recruits and retire to take care of his wife and baby. Two good friends join the police force and compete to join the operations unit. They think of themselves as different from the average police officer as they are honest – different from all of the corrupt cops that exist in the Rio police force.

This movie, too, has loss and pain throughout, and it may remind you of City of God in its topic matter and occasional sadness. ‘Elite Squad’ simply tells the story of the police and justice system in Rio and the struggles they face, as well as the struggles they present to the city. A really riveting film, it gives you another side of life in Rio.

Did we like it? 4 out of 5 stars.

Carandiru (2003)

A film based on true facts, it cuts deep and to the bone – not for the faint of heart.

Set partially in Carandiru, Brazil’s largest prison, as well as in the city of São Paulo, it tells the story of Drauzio Varella, a doctor attempting to start AIDS prevention in the prison. The prison itself is overrun and the guards have little to no control over its inmates. Crime and drug use run rampant amongst its almost 8000 prisoners. The doctor learns all about what has brought the prisoners there and we see their stories played out in dramatic flashbacks throughout the film.  Varella tries to encourage morale and improve the general health of the prisoners by starting a soccer tournament, but unfortunately things escalate into a prison revolt and we see the fallout of the the strong arm of the guards’ retaliation that left over 100 people dead.

A dark tale with an element of truth, the stories of the prisoners and their tragic fate will keep you glued to the screen. A bit different from the previous two films on this list, ‘Carandiru’ illustrates many of the social issues and concerns that have existed in Brazil, just in a different light.

Did we like it? 4 out of 5 stars.

Itching to book a trip to Brazil? Don’t miss out on these top tourist activities in Rio!

Captains of the Sands (2011)

Focusing on a gang of street kids trying to make their way in the world, this film is a bit more cinematographically beautiful than ‘City of God’, or perhaps it would be fairer to say it’s less gritty and more colourful. Set in the 1950s and the street urchins depicted are doing much the same thing as those in City of God – they womanise, play cards, commit crimes and even have some time for capoeira!

‘Captains of the Sands’ happens to be an adaptation of a novel of the same name, written by Jorge Amado. This film is different from the others on this list in its setting. The coastal town of Salvador is the backdrop for the story, and the boys’ headquarters just happens to be an abandoned castle by the sea… much prettier than the favelas featured in City of God though just as real and – sometimes – just as brutal.

Did we like it? 4 out of 5 stars.


If all this talk of real life in Brazil inspires you to learn some of the beautiful Portuguese language, why not contact us to see what courses are available?