43 Best Movies to Watch From Brazil

Staff & contributors
Co-directed and narrated by legendary German director Wim Wenders in collaboration with Salgado's son, Juliano, this unique film tells Sebastião Salgado's life story from his childhood in Northern Brazil, his early career as an economist, and how he shifted towards photography to become a world-renowned photojournalist. Shot in stunning black and white by Juliano Salgado and Hugo Barbier, The Salt of the Earth is a mesmerizing exhibition of one man's lifelong dedication to capture the suffering of humanity and of nature. Most famously, the nightmarish images of the teeming workers of Serra Pelada, a Brazilian mountain gold mine. While creating these images raises some ethical questions that Salgado was confronted with throughout his career, it is an utterly enthralling experience, upsetting at times in its frank display of war, death, and devastation. Ultimately, however, Salgado's elegance and kindness pull us back in and what we see is truth, awareness, and beauty.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Lélia Wanick Salgado, Régis Muller, Sebastião Salgado, Wim Wenders

Director: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders

Rating: PG-13

In this powerful documentary, Brazilian filmmaker Petra Costa intertwines her own family history with the democratic journey of her home country. As she says herself, Costa and her country's democracy are of the same age. This is not the only reason why she was uniquely positioned to make a film like this: her parents were left-wing activists in the 1970s, who went to jail for their beliefs, while her grandparents were part of the ruling class have made Brazil's strong-man politics and right-wing backlash possible. Her mother was held at the same prison that ex-president Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016) was sent to. Costa tells the story of Rousseff's demise as well as that of Luiz Inácio da Silva (2003-2011) aka Lula, whose future remains up in the air. The Edge of Democracy is thus a gripping and urgent warning that democracy in the world's sixth most populous country is under attack. In content and form, Costa is obviously opinionated, but she makes a strong point.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Aécio Neves, Barack Obama, Dilma Rousseff, Eduardo Cunha, Elena Andrade, Jair Bolsonaro, Jean Wyllys, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Marisa Letícia Lula da Silva, Michel Temer, Nelson Mandela, Paulo Maluf, Petra Costa, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Sérgio Moro

Director: Petra Costa

Rating: TV-14

The Sanskrit word Samsara refers to the wheel of life and roughly translates to “continuous flow”. And, indeed, Samsara takes us on an entrancing journey, chronicling the never-ending cycle of birth, life, death, and re-birth that life, big and small, goes through—at least according to the religions that were born on the Indian continent. Shot on 70mm film and utilizing computerized camera movements as well as time-lapse photography, this film by American director Ron Fricke delivers absolutely breath-taking visuals. Whether it's awe-inspiring vastness or the close-up of a human face, its narration-less narrative integrates every aspect of human and natural life regardless of scale or location. The scope of this effort is truly awe-inspiring and the clarity of it has to be seen to be believed. An unusual and magical film!

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Balinese Tari Legong Dancers, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Ni Made Megahadi Pratiwi, Olivier De Sagazan, Puti Sri Candra Dewi, Putu Dinda Pratika

Director: Ron Fricke

Rating: PG-13

, 2022

A young woman’s coming-of-age threatens to topple the uneasy hierarchy of her family in this striking debut from Croatian director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović. The trigger for Julija’s (Gracija Filipović) angsty rebellion is the arrival of her parents’ enigmatic wealthy friend, Javi (Cliff Curtis), whom her controlling father Ante (Leon Lučev) is hoping to squeeze a juicy investment out of. Part of hot-headed Ante’s strategy involves playing on Javi’s still-simmering feelings for Ante's wife Nela (Danica Čurčić) — a dicey game to play when you have a temper like his. It’s also a very manipulative one, and the film lives in the atmosphere of claustrophobia that comes with being a woman in Ante’s life. Though her mother seems resigned to acceptance, Julija yearns for liberation, and it’s her burgeoning awareness of her own power as a woman that fires this drive for freedom. With its stunning Adriatic setting and haunting underwater sequences — the family are keen spearfishers — Murina is a film of natural beauty and human ugliness, a slow burn of a psychological drama that uses volatile teenage emotions as its incendiary fuel.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Cliff Curtis, Danica Curcic, Goran Grgić, Gracija Filipović, Jonas Smulders, Klara Mucci, Leon Lucev, Marina Redzepovic, Milan Štrljić, Zoran Tadić

Director: Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović

Get ready for one hell of a journey. From the writer of City of God, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within is a poignant and powerful action-packed movie. Set in Brazil, the film follows two seemingly opposed characters (one a police officer, one a professor) as they both work to treat the systemic social ills that corrupt the country. As much a social commentary as it is an action-packed drama (think The Departed and The Wire), Elite Squad will take you on a whirlwind journey that will leave you considering the larger issues of poverty, crime, and "doing good" in the world.

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama

Actor: Adriano Garib, Andre Mattos, André Ramiro, Cadu Fávero, Caio Junqueira, Charles Fricks, Emílio Orciollo Netto, Fabrício Boliveira, Irandhir Santos, Juliana Schalch, Kikito Junqueira, Luca Bianchi, Luciano Vidigal, Marcelo Freixo, Maria Ribeiro, Milhem Cortaz, Pedro Van-Held, Pierre Santos, Prazeres Barbosa, Rogério Trindade, Roney Villela, Sandro Rocha, Seu Jorge, Taina Muller, Thogun Teixeira, Wagner Moura

Director: José Padilha

Rating: Not Rated, Unrated

Mars One is a tender, wholesome drama that centers on The Martins, a family of four living on the fringes of a major Brazilian city. Their lower-middle-class status puts them in an odd position—they’re settled enough to have big dreams and occasionally lead lavish lives (the mother and the daughter like to party) but they barely have the means to pursue that kind of lifestyle. As a result, they’re always searching and wanting, aiming high but almost always falling flat on the ground.

There is no actual plot in Mars One. Instead, it studies its characters in a leisurely and almost offhand manner. The approach is so naturalistic, you’ll almost forget you’re watching a movie. But it’s still gorgeously shot and staged, Brazil being an inevitably striking background. At once gentle and vibrant, this big-hearted film is a must for those who are suckers for well-made family dramas.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Camilla Damião, Carlos Francisco, Cícero Lucas, Dircinha Macêdo, Hélio Ricardo, Kelly Crifer, Rejane Faria, Renato Novaes, Russo Apr

Director: Gabriel Martins

, 2018

This true story of a white-supremacist and the civil rights unit that tried to stop his group was so gripping. 

You might recognize the title from the Oscars ceremony, as a shorter version of Skin (same director but different actors) won the Academy Award for Best Short Film. 

The longer movie provides much more time for the characters to develop, and room for more of a commentary on the current political situation in the U.S.

Fun fact: see that scary man in the picture? That’s Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell who went through a transformation for the role, including always wearing a device to pull his ears closer to his head because they were “too cute”.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ari Barkan, Bill Camp, Cecil Blutcher, Colbi Gannett, Daniel Henshall, Danielle Macdonald, Jaime Ray Newman, Jamie Bell, Jenna Leigh Green, Joanna Herrington, Justin L. Wilson, Kylie Rogers, Louisa Krause, Maliq Johnson, Mary Stuart Masterson, Michael Villar, Mike Colter, Portia, Rob Figueroa, Rob Giumarra, Russell Posner, Samantha Jones, Seán Cullen, Vera Farmiga, Zoe Colletti

Director: Guy Nattiv

Rating: R

Love is Strange is an even-handed drama about a Ben and George (John Lithgow and Alfred Molina), a loving couple who marry after 39 years of companionship, only to face a series of unexpected consequences of their decision. George is fired from his position as a music teacher, they’re forced to sell their home, and they find themselves living separately with various friends and relatives. The story revolves largely around their time apart, as they struggle in their separation while creating unintended commotion in the lives of their hosts. It’s a warm, wryly amusing and ultimately very touching film about the bonds of love and dedication. It may seem slow at times, but to watch it through to the end will lead you to realize how truly special it is.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Alfred Molina, Andrew Polk, Charlie Tahan, Cheyenne Jackson, Christian Coulson, Christina Kirk, Daphne Gaines, Darren E. Burrows, Eric Tabach, Harriet Sansom Harris, James Zeiss, John Cullum, John Lithgow, Manny Perez, Marisa Tomei, Olya Zueva, Sebastian La Cause, Tank Burt, Tatyana Zbirovskaya

Director: Ira Sachs

Rating: R

This 140-minute Brazilian drama is an epic and touching tale of two sisters torn apart. In 1950s Rio de Janeiro, Eurídice, 18, and Guida, 20, are inseparable, but their dreams soon take them away from each other, from their conservative family, and from Brazil.

After they are separated, each one of them believes the other is achieving her dreams when often the opposite was happening. Family betrayal, silence, and a suffocating social climate shatter the aspiration of the sisters but also highlight their strength.

Genre: Drama

Actor: António Fonseca, Carol Duarte, Cláudio Gabriel, Cristina Pereira, Eduardo Tornaghi, Fernanda Montenegro, Fernando Ceylão, Flávia Gusmão, Flávio Bauraqui, Gillray Coutinho, Gregório Duvivier, Izak Dahora, Julia Stockler, Luana Xavier, Márcio Vito, Maria Manoella, Nikolas Antunes

Director: Karim Aïnouz

Rating: R

Val is a housekeeper for a wealthy family in São Paulo. She is close with every family member, and acts as the title would suggest - as a second mother, but there are clear reminders of her status. One is the sheer amount of work she has to do, from cooking to cleaning and responding to random demands.

Val’s estranged daughter visits her, a bright kid who is on her way to university. This brings out more of the maid/employer dynamics: if Val is “family”, why would she and her daughter have to sleep in a small cramped room when the guest room is empty?

Questions like these threaten the family’s balance and the uneasy existence that millions around the world have as housekeepers.

It’s a great and well-thought-out drama, one that would make the perfect centerpiece for a movie night or a movie club pick.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Camila Márdila, Helena Albergaria, Hugo Villavicenzio, Karine Teles, Lourenço Mutarelli, Luci Pereira, Luis Miranda, Michel Joelsas, Regina Casé, Theo Werneck

Director: Anna Muylaert

Let's fight! I'm not a fan of "Into the wild" okay okay, calm down... Maybe we can fix this. Maybe we could watch "The Motorcycle Diaries" together. Watching this heartwarming movie, you will get the travel bug. I got it and I never got rid of it. I even want to go on a motorcycle tour through South America although I would have never dreamed of getting on a motorbike. Have fun with it. Oh and... this film is about the young Che Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado by the way.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Antonella Costa, Constanza B. Majluf, Cristián Chaparro, Erto Pantoja, Fernando Farías, Franco Solazzi, Gabriela Aguilera, Gael García Bernal, Gustavo Bueno, Jaime Azócar, Jean Pierre Noher, Jorge Chiarella, Lucas Oro, Marina Glezer, Mercedes Moran, Mía Maestro, Natalia Lobo, Pablo Macaya, Ricardo Diaz Mourelle, Rodrigo De la Serna, Sergio Boris, Sofia Bertolotto, Susana Lanteri, Vilma Verdejo

Director: Walter Salles

Rating: R

Over 100 hours of footage were shot for this documentary chronicling the fraught journey that thousands make to reach the US-Mexico border — but, watching the 93 minutes that made the cut, you get a sense that this is the story that was meant to be told. Editor Sofia Machado whittled down reams of footage into this gently conveyed single account of one woman’s journey. Twenty-nine at the time of filming, Lilian and her four children fled a violent husband and bleak prospects in Guatemala, setting out as part of a migrants’ caravan undertaking the 4000km-long journey separating them from the brighter future they hope is waiting for them in the US.

She meets exploitation, xenophobia, and other perils on the route (not least The Beast, the dangerous freight train she and her kids must hop to reach safety). Remarkably, though, there’s much solidarity and generosity to be found on the way, too, as Lilian and her kids forge moving family-like bonds with fellow migrants. What’s more, as the documentary unfolds, quiet revelations emerge, making it clear that Lilian is also looking for a type of liberation that many on the road already have — a dream that this documentary suggests might blessedly be closer than she originally envisioned.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Danilo Do Carmo, Jakob Krese