Streaming down to Rio: Eight great Brazilian films to watch tonight

Wishing you were flying down to Rio for the Summer Olympics next month, but can’t hack the ticket prices?

You can still get a fantastic taste of the country with these eight terrific Brazilian films currently available on Netflix and other streaming services:

1. A Wolf at the Door

O lobo atrás da porta | Written and directed by Fernando Coimbra | 2013

A child is kidnapped and the father is interrogated by the police. He finally admits that he has been having an affair with a woman named Rosa, so she is brought in and questioned too.

What ensues is a tour de force performance by both Milbem Cortaz and Leandra Leal, who reveal pieces of the unpredictable puzzle bit by bit. The camera shifts constantly too, giving the viewers a variety of perspectives on the same scene, shot from different angles as we learn more about each of the characters’ Machiavellian motives.

A highly intelligent, disturbingly dark thriller, and one of the few recent Brazilian film that deals not with the extremely wealthy or the poor, but with Brazil’s working middle class. The talented director, Fernando Coimbra, has a new film in post-production called Sand Castle, about the occupation of Iraq.

Streaming on Netflix (free), Youtube ($3.99)

2. Xingu

Directed by Cao Hamburger | 2012

The story of the three Villas Boas brothers, who set out on an adventure to the Amazon Rainforest as part of the ‘March to the West’ in the 1940s and ended up devoting their lives to advocating for the Indigenous peoples of the rainforest.

Their efforts over several decades led to the creation of the Xingu National Park in 1961, an area of the Amazon the size of Belgium that was set aside for native peoples and became a prototype for dozens of similar reserves throughout Latin America. If at times the three brothers are lionized by the film, their idealism and effective advocacy on behalf of first nations warrants the attention to their story.

Streaming on Amazon ($4.99)

3. Elite Squad 2, The Enemy Within

Tropa de elite 2 o inimigo agora e outro | Directed by Jose Padilha | 2010

If you enjoyed City of God (if you haven’t seen it, you really should!) here’s another good action film in the genre dealing with drug dealers, police and corruption. This is the second installment, following up on Elite Squad (2007), in which Captain Nascimento (played by the talented Wagner Moura) from BOPE (Special Police Operation Batallion) tries to clean up the streets of a Rio favela in preparation for the pope’s 1997 visit.

Meanwhile two idealistic friends join the police force together and are quickly confronted with the corruption that pervades it; they transfer to the BOPE and their lives become intertwined with that of Nascimiento.

In Part 2, Nascimento has becomer commander-in-chief of the BOPE and then Sub-secretary of Intelligence. In that position he strengthens the BOPE, weakening the drug dealers, only to realize that, in the process, he has strengthened the corrupt cops and dirty politicians.

An entertaining action movie that inspires reflection about the ethical and political consequences of police conduct.

Streaming on Netflix (free)

4. Breaking the Taboo

Quebrando o tabu | Directed by Fernando Grostein Andrade and Cosmo Feilding-Mellen | 2011

A persuasive documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman, following the Global Commission on Drug Policy in its examination of the rationale and the tragic impact of the UN sanctioned war on drugs, in countries like Colombia, the U.S., and Russia. Features interviews with Presidents Clinton and Carter.

Streaming on Netflix (free)

5. The Famous and the Dead

Os Famosos e os Duendes da Morte | Directed by Esmir Filho | 2009

An experimental film about a teenage blogger, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” whose father has recently died, deals with alienation in small-town southern Brazil. As the country prepares for the June Festival, he watches photographs and films posted on the internet by a mysterious woman and dreams of escaping to a Bob Dylan concert.

A moody, intellectual film about the role of the globalization of pop culture and the internet in transcending provincialism and family dysfunction.

Streaming on Amazon Prime

6. Futuro Beach

Praia do futuro | Directed by Karim Ainouz | 2014

Donato, a Rio lifeguard (played by Wagner Moura of Elite Squad), fails in his attempt to save a German tourist from drowning. Afterward he meets and falls in love with the victim’s partner, Konrad. As Donato and Konrad embark on a star-crossed future together, which takes them to Berlin, Donato’s complicated past begins to catch up with him. A multi-layered thought piece in the experimental vein.

The multi-talented Karim Ainouz also directed Madame Sata (2002), about the celebrated black drag performer, and Love for Sale (2006), about a young single mother who raffles off a night with herself to buy a ticket out of a small town that holds no future for her and her baby.

Streaming on Netflix (free)

7. Reaching for the Moon

Flores Raras | Directed by Bruno Barreto | 2013

This film traces the tragic story of the intense, turbulent international romance between two immensely talented women, the Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. poet Elizabeth Bishop and the Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Suarez, between 1951 and 1967.

Macedo Suarez, an avant-garde architect and larger than life personality, designed and supervised the construction of Rio’s controversial oceanfront Flamengo Park. She was also a close friend of anti-communist politician Carlos Lacerda, who was involved in the 1964 coup d’état, and the film doesn’t shy away from exploring the contradictions between Macedo Suarez’ progressive aesthetics and feminism and her alliance with right-wing politicians.

Streaming on Netflix (free)

8. The Way He Looks

Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho | Directed by Daniel Ribeiro | 2014

Leonardo, a visually impaired teenager, has to grapple with new romantic feelings, as well as his best friend Giovana’s jealousy, when a new boy arrives at his school. At the same time he is struggling with the desire to become more independent from his solicitous parents. A sweet, realist portrayal of young love between two boys, one of whom can’t see.

Streaming on Netflix (free)


    1. Yes, Black Orpheus is fabulous–but I don’t think it’s available on Instant Streaming at the moment, is it?
      Thanks, Chang!

  1. Though it was a joint Brazilian – French production, how can you leave out the 1960 Oscar winning Black Orpheus, one of the most beautiful movies ever.

  2. A gold mine could be Brazilian classics, starting with Carmen Miranda films before she was imported by Hollywood to play novelty numbers with fruity hats. A few of her period recordings and movie clips are on youtube (not subtitled), and I have desperately searched for more (subtitled, of course). I believe her talents were not fully appreciated or developed once she came north. Does anyone know where any of these films can be obtained?

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