Thanks to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games being held in Rio de Janeiro, much of the world’s attention is currently focused on Brazil. Unfortunately, a lot of the stories being told by the media tend to be about the various problems Brazil has — both as a country and as an Olympic host. From ongoing worries about the Zika virus and the water quality in Rio, to concerns about the Olympic Village infrastructure and state-sponsored athlete doping, there is definitely plenty of negative stories to be told about this year’s Games.
That being said, there is also plenty to love about Brazil that has nothing to do with the Olympics or even sports in general. For example, Brazilians have made important contributions to the world of cinema. With that in mind, here are five great Brazilian movies — in no particular order — that entertain, educate, provoke, and provide insights into this country’s rich cultural history.
5. Black Orpheus (1959)
Although this Academy Award-winning film was made by French director Marcel Camus, the movie takes place in Rio de Janeiro during the annual Carnaval celebration and was produced with the help of a Brazilian production company. Starring Breno Mello and Marpessa Dawn, this film is a modern retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Besides winning an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Black Orpheus also garnered the prestigious Palme D’Or award at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival. The film is notable for its stunning footage of Rio de Janeiro and its unforgettable bossa nova soundtrack.
4. Pixote (1981)
Unlike the highly symbolic and dreamlike Black Orpheus, Pixote is an unflinchingly realistic depiction of the life of a boy living on the streets of São Paulo. While its dark subject matter makes this film difficult to watch at times, Pixote offers insight into the anger that many ordinary Brazilians feel about their government’s Olympic-related spending. This anger can be seen at various protests that have occurred around Olympic events, such as the one that took place when the Olympic torch arrived in Rio (per BBC).
Tragic and unforgettable, this Hector Babenco-directed film is notable for its gritty, pseudo-documentary style and largely amateur cast. Pixote currently has a 100 percent approval rating from the critics on Rotten Tomatoes and has been lauded by many prominent critics, including Roger Ebert.
3. Central Station (1998)
Like Pixote, the plot of Central Station also involves a young homeless boy. However, this Walter Salles-directed film is far more uplifting than Pixote and features adult characters that are much kinder. The film tells the story of Isadora, a disillusioned former schoolteacher who makes her living writing letters for poor illiterate people at Rio de Janeiro’s Central Station. After one of her clients is killed in a traffic accident, Isadora helps the orphan Josué search for his missing father.
Fernanda Montenegro was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her portrayal of Isadora, while Central Station was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. “Mr. Salles directs simply and watchfully, with an eye that seems to penetrate all the characters,” noted The New York Times film critic Janet Maslin.
2. Elite Squad (2007)
Directed by José Padilha, this film is a semi-fictional depiction of Rio de Janeiro’s notorious elite military police squads that are tasked with controlling crime in the city’s large favelas, or slums. Based on a memoir written by former Brazilian police officers, Elite Squad was considered controversial for its frank portrayal of police corruption and brutality. The film tells the story of a police captain’s efforts to find his replacement as he comes under increasing pressure to secure a crime-ridden favela ahead of a visit from Pope John Paul II.
While the film has been criticized for glorifying police violence, it was a highly popular and commercially successful film when it was released in Brazil in 2007. Elite Squad went on to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and eventually spawned a sequel, 2010’s Elite Squad: The Enemy Within. Besides being an entertaining crime thriller, Elite Squad may also provide some insight into the security operations that often go on behind the scenes in Brazil ahead of high-profile events such as the World Cup and the Olympics.
1. City of God (2002)
Like Elite Squad, City of God is also based on a semi-fictional memoir of the same name. However, while Elite Squad focuses on the lives of the police officers who have been tasked with controlling crime in the favelas, City of God tells the story of the people who live there. The film follows the intertwined lives of two characters that grew up in a poverty-stricken favela known as the “City of God.”
City of God received critical acclaim upon its release and garnered Academy Award nominations in four categories, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing.
All movie cast, crew, and awards information courtesy of IMDb.
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