Brazil through the Movies

One of my favorite things (and possibly one of Gustavo’s least favorite) is comparing our favorite movies together. I’ve always been a bit of a film buff. When I was growing up, my dad had a video rental store, so I always had access to all kinds of movies. It didn’t hit me until later that my love for the movies was probably closely tied to being surrounded by them so often.

As always, Gustavo and I have very different taste when it comes to movies. He likes action and adventure, I like drama and foreign. He likes new movies, I like old movies. Give me almost any classic, give him any Marvel-based story.

Brazilian Cinema

To further complicate things, most movie theaters in Brazil show – almost exclusively – American blockbusters. While it’s great for my comprehension in a crowded theater, it’s less great for my desire to actually partake in Brazilian culture.

Nevertheless, over the past few years, we’ve developed a pretty solid list of classic Brazilian movies worth watching.

1. House of Sand

Erica: House of Sand holds a special place in my heart because it was the first Brazilian movie I ever saw. In fact, I saw it well before I ever stepped foot in Brazil. Way back after I graduated from high school, I did an internship at BUST Magazine where, from time to time, I was able to write reviews on books, music, beauty products, and, of course, movies.

I saw House of Sand in a tiny little theater in Midtown Manhattan with my special guest (my mom) because I was only 19 and thrilled to be invited to a movie screening. It’s a long, multi-generational movie that follows a family of women in the Northeast of Brazil throughout their trials and tribulations. It’s worth watching for the scenery alone, as it was filmed in the unique Lençois Maranhenses park.

2. Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad)

Gustavo: Tropa de Elite (1 and 2) are super important to understand why Rio and its corruption has broken a lot of its people. It’s the movie that almost all Brazilians will tell you about and its plot centers on the biggest flaw of the second largest state in the country.

In the first movie, you see how Capitan Nascimento thinks that things can be solved with violence and destruction. In the sequel, you can see him reaching a deeper understanding that the problem in Rio runs much deeper.

3. Cidade de Deus (City of God)

Gustavo: In this first post, I felt like talking about the three set of movies that impacted me the most about Brazil. Cidade de Deus couldn’t be left out of this list as it’s one of the important movies about favelas in general.

It’s hard to explain how movie that has had such a visceral impact on this generation. A generation of people that didn’t truly have contact with a reality so close to us, but remained so hidden for those that have a better socio-economic situation.

4. O Menino e O Mundo (The Boy and the World)

Erica: The Boy and the World is a beautifully animated film that follows a little boy lost in a very big, very chaotic, and very scary world. The animations are childlike, which make the character so easy to connect with. Yet there’s no dialogue in the movie. In fact, when anyone speaks, it’s in a sort-of made-up jibberish, not unlike how the kids in Charlie Brown heard the adults around them. It’s a really unique movie that puts you in the place of the little child. It forces you to remember that period of innocence and where you just feel so, so small.

5. Carandiru

Gustavo: This is the first big movie from Brazil that I watched. It had a lasting impression on me about what kind of world we live in. It takes place inside the prison of Carandiru right before, and during, the massacre that happened after a riot, which left 111 prisoners dead.

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