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Five Movies to Better Understand Brazilian Culture

Updated: Jun 4

Once a Japanese student of mine told me that every Brazilian movies seems a documentary. I was a little frustrated with what he said, but I had to agree that, actually the documentary aesthetic is present in a large majority of Brazilian cinematic fiction. It seems that, in Brazil, we live in such surreal situations that we need to see ourselves on screen in order to recognize our contradictions and be able to change them. In this article, I have selected five movies that can help Brazilian Portuguese students understand the country's culture. Come on?

The first of them is “Desmundo” (2002), directed by Alain Fresnot. The film takes place around 1570, during the birth of Brazilian society, and tells the story of orphans who were sent from Portugal to Brazil and forced to marry the colonists (in general, rude men with no family). At that time there were practically no Portuguese women in the country and the women who were here to interact with local men generally were at a vulnerable position. Either they were considered savages (indigenous women), or women without families and dowries (orphans), or soulless beings, simple sexual objects (African women). Desmundo reveals to us the original bases of a patriarchy that up today influence a sexist behavior very present in Brazilian society. Another curiosity is that the movie was filmed in old Portuguese and subtitled in modern Brazilian Portuguese. It's very interesting!

The second movie is “Carlota Joaquina, Princess of Brazil” (1995), directed by Carla Camurati. The story takes place at the beginning of the 19th century, in Rio de Janeiro and the movie narrates the arrival of the royal family to Brazil, after Napoleon Bonaparte's invasion of Portugal. It is a historical satire that exposes the origins of concepts of class superiority that are still reflected in Brazilian culture. Furthermore, with this movie, we can understand how royalty's relations with the colony promoted acts of corruption that have become a habit still difficult to eliminate today.

The third is O Auto da Compadecida (2000), directed by Guel Arraes. The film is a dramatic comedy that takes place in the interior of the Brazilian Northeast, the poorest region of the country. The story revolves around the adventures of two boys trying to survive poverty. The film presents, in a fun way, archetypal characters from Brazilian social groups (the bourgeoisie, the church, politicians, the military, the outlaws and the poor) and shows the power relationship and tensions between them. With this film you will observe very common themes of Brazilian reality, such as social inequality, poverty, faith and abuse of power. In addition you will be able to understand the cultural diversity between of the different regions of the country.

The fourth is Basic Sanitation, The Movie (2007), directed by Jorge Furtado. It is a comedy that tells the story of the residents of a small community in southern Brazil. They need to build a septic tank to solve a sewage problem. And the city administration claims it does not have the funds to resolve the issue, but it has money allocated for the production of a film. So the residents begin to independetly create any filme they can think of, just to get the money and build the septic tank. Basic sanitation, the film shows how the relationship between ordinary Brazilian citizens and public authorities is like. Problems such as excessive bureaucracy, contradictions among politicians, political alienation of citizens and the low education of the population are exposed in an ironic and entertaining way.

The fifth and last is The seconde mather (2015), directed by Anna Muylaet. This drama film tells the story of a woman who moves from the Northeast to São Paulo to get out of poverty and starts working as a maid. Years later, she experiences culture shock with her daughter, who won't accept the exploitation at work that her mother is used to. The film reveals the great social transformations that took place in Brazil during the 2000s and the resistance of the middle class to sharing the same spaces with the lower class. Furthermore, it also shows how the legacy of slavery is still present in the daily habits of Brazilians.

Of course, there are many other interesting films to help you understand Brazilian culture! But they are many, I will talk more about others in my future articles. See you them!

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