Brazil — home of samba and João Gilberto, Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival and the revered Pelé, pão de queijo and the Amazon — is a vast country with a culture as lush as its jungles. Accordingly, the cinematic scene that has emerged from this fascinating country is unparalleled. Subsequently, o cinema brasileiro radically explores a sweeping array of themes: from a government whose reign wavers from the proletariat to the tyrannical, to the ever-changing effects of gentrification, to the country’s traditional, patriarchal ways pinned against its younger generations. No stone is left unturned. This week we’re covering eleven films by Brazilian directors that make the case that this sprawling nation has produced a handful of the most groundbreaking films from the past three decades.
“The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão” — A Vida Invisível
Sisters Eurídice (Carol Duarte) and Guida (Julia Stockler) find solace in their intimate bond and shared worldly views as they navigate their starkly rigid and equally stifling family in the Gusmão home. Set in 1950s Rio de Janeiro, “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão” spans decades of yearning and searching as the two sisters are torn apart by their culture’s patriarchal customs, each one believing that the other is fulfilling their dream.
“City of God” — Cidade de Deus
Based on Paulo Lins’ 1997 novel of the same name, “City of God” depicts the story of Rocket (Phellipe Haagensen) and José “Zé” Pequeno (Douglas Silva) who find themselves at odds as a drug war erupts in the shanty favelas of 1970s Rio de Janeiro. As Rocket’s interest in photography increases, Zé sees this as an opportunity for notoriety. While tensions rise and violence worsens, Rocket learns that one picture can change the trajectory of his life.
“Love for Sale” — O Céu de Suely
Struck by her husband’s infidelity, Hermila (Hermila Guedes) leaves behind her life to embark on a journey of self-discovery and liberation. Traveling far from her hometown, Hermila embraces anonymity by adopting the name Suely and begins rounding up suitors for a “night in paradise” where the prize is herself.
“Neighboring Sounds” — O Som ao Redor
Set in Recife, Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s debut film “Neighboring Sounds” follows the lives of middle-class residents undergoing new safety and security measures in their community. Constrained by constant surveillance, the ever-growing monotony of life, and their self-imposed paranoia, the film’s protagonists face an expansive isolation despite the close proximity to their neighbors. Filho’s “Neighboring Sounds” takes a hard look at Brazil’s rising class conflict as the walls of this Recife building close in on its residents.
Retired music critic Clara (Sônia Braga) has no plans of moving out of the Aquarius apartment complex, a stunning two-story building built in the 1940s. American educated designer and land developer Diego (Humberto Carrão), however, has other plans for the building and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. A narrative closer to fact than fiction, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s David-and-Goliathesque “Aquarius” doubles as a reflection of Brazil’s current political state and tells the story of one woman’s fierce resilience in the face of greed-stricken corruption.
“The Way He Looks” – Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho
Based on the 2010 short “I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone,” the 2014 film adaptation finds Leo (Gilherme Lobo), a blind high schooler, struggling for independence from his overprotective parents and constraining school environment. Leo’s lone walks home from school and idle days spent by the pool with best friend and sole companion Giovana (Tess Amorim) quickly change when newcomer Gabriel (Fábio Audi) enrolls in their school. Following the budding friendship, “The Way He Looks” is a fresh take on a coming of age story.
“The Second Mother” — Que Horas Ela Volta?
In order to support her daughter Jessica (Camila Márdila), housemaid and live-in nanny Val (Regina Casé) has spent the past 13 years working for an affluent family in São Paulo while caring for their only son, Fabinho (Michel Joelsas). Now an adult, Jessica leaves her small town of Pernambuco to stay with her mother as she takes her college entrance exams — at the quiet disapproval of her mother’s bosses. Stirring the social order in their home, Val must decide where her loyalty stands in this comedic class critique, directed by Anna Muylaert.
“Entranced Earth” — Terra Em Transe
The idealistic poet and jaded journalist Paulo Martins (Jardel Filho) resides in Eldorado, a fictional Latin American locale who finds himself in the midst of the city’s parasitic politics. Torn between two corrupt candidates, Paulo quickly realizes the dangers of his activism in this Cinema Novo film.
Elena Andrade leaves behind a life under the shadow of her parents’ political activism during Brazil’s military dictatorship. She lands in New York, thousands of miles away from her homeland. In this unfamiliar setting Elena pursues her (and once her mother’s) dreams of being an actress and soon after ceases all contact with her family. A composite of home movie archives and present day footage, the titular documentary retrospectively follows the life of the elusive actress from the perspective of her younger sister and the renowned director Petra Costa. A tribute to an estranged sister, an ode to grief, and a search for truth, “Elena” is one woman’s reconciliation of her sister’s resounding absence in her life.
“The Deceased” — A Falecida
Perfectly in good health, Zulmira (Fernanda Montenegro) finds herself consumed by the idea of death. Looking for an escape from her dreary reality, she begins planning an extravagant and over the top funeral for her own imminent end of life. In the midst of the macabre, Leon Hirzman’s “The Deceased” captures this peculiar woman’s essence — living to die yet dying to live.
“The Edge of Democracy” — Democracia em Vertigem
Petra Costa’s “The Edge of Democracy” captures the rise and fall of Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s political reign that preceded Jair Bolsonaro’s highly controversial presidential inauguration in 2018. Nominated in 2020 for Best Documentary Feature, the film sees an unfettered view on these polarizing politicians as Costa masterfully weaves the country’s political and democratic unraveling with her own personal narrative on familial and class divide. “The Edge of Democracy” teeters on uncertainty as Brazil’s political circumstance wavers, leaving viewers across the globe to question their own country’s impending collapse.