Retrospective: Top 5 Brazilian Movies | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Retrospective: Top 5 Brazilian Movies

The 2014 FIFA World Cup at Brazil is just around the corner and to honour the city, I have listed down my "Top 5 Brazilian Movies" that you might wanted to check them out:


Before Argentine-born Brazilian director Hector Babenco made his crossover to the US with KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN in 1985 (in which William Hurt won Best Actor Oscar for his homosexual inmate role as Luis Molina) and IRONWEED in 1987 (in which both Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep were nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress Oscar respectively), he already gained his international recognition with the controversial Brazilian drama PIXOTE back in 1981.

The title of the movie referred to the young boy named Pixote (Fernando Ramos da Silva), who's been abandoned by his parents and ended up at a reform school. From there, the movie detailed on his hellish experience involving physical violence and rape situation. Then one day, he and his three friends (Jorge Juliao, Gilberto Moura and Edilson Lino) successfully escaped from the reform school and attempted to move on with their life at the city of Sao Paulo, and later to Rio.

PIXOTE was a tough movie to watch, because the way Babenco shot his feature like a slice-of-life documentary where everything was grim and uncompromisingly brutal (scenes like a boy who got raped in the reformatory room, an aborted baby was found inside a bucket in a bathroom, and another one where Pixote ended up suckling the breast of a prostitute named Sueli, played by Marilia Pera, were undeniably shocking). The graphic nature of its social decay and moral degradation may have been a turn off, but it remained a powerful portrait of children living in poverty nonetheless. PIXOTE was also known for using non-professional actors (real-life street criminal Fernando Ramos da Silva, who played Pixote, was particularly engrossing) that made the characters all the more realistic. In 1987, da Silva's life was cut short at the age of 19 when he ended up being killed in a shootout by the police.


A familiar but touching drama of a 67-year-old retired teacher Dora (Fernanda Montenegro) who made a small living writing letters for illiterate customers in Rio's Central Station. When a young mother was killed by a bus, Dora subsequently took the 9-year-old kid Josue (Vinicius de Oliveira) under her care. At the beginning, their relationship didn't go well but grew closer to each other when they embarked on a long journey to find Josue's father.

Such story had been repeated countless times before, but what made CENTRAL STATION a well-received drama was the great chemistry between Montenegro and de Oliveira. Montenegro delivered an emotionally poignant performance as the lonely old woman first depicted as a heartless person who didn't mind selling Josue for money so she could buy a remote-controlled TV. She was best seen when she slowly changed her inner self into a more understanding person after she got to know more about Josue. It was this bittersweet transformation that made her acting well deserved for the Best Actress Oscar nomination. Josue, on the other hand, was well played with naturalistic flair by newcomer Vinicius de Oliveira. In addition to the Best Actress Oscar nomination, CENTRAL STATION was also nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film.


When Brazilian director Jose Padilha attempted to make his Hollywood debut feature in this year's updated remake of ROBOCOP, the result was decidedly mixed. But Padilha was one of the most well-known filmmakers in Brazil when he made ELITE SQUAD -- a then-top moneymaker at the box office -- back in 2007.

The story centres on Captain Nascimento (Wagner Maura), a squad commander who worked for the Brazilian military police unit known as BOPE charged with maintaining peace and order against crime in the favelas. When his wife was pregnant and Nascimento was about to become a father of their first child, he was ready to pass his high-ranking position to someone else. Meanwhile, the movie also focused on two ambitious young police cadets -- trigger-happy Neto (Caio Junqueira) and intellectual Matias (Andre Ramiro) -- who both gradually joined the BOPE cadet training.

Shot in a documentary-like handheld style, Padilha's tense direction was engaging especially the way he depicted the graphic violence as well as the harsh realities of the people living in the slums. While the first half was somewhat erratic, the movie grew better in the second half once the brutal training took place for the BOPE cadet and the subsequent showdown against one of the drug gangs. Of all the actors here, it was Wagner Maura, looking like a dead ringer for Mark Ruffalo, who delivered the most captivating performance as the no-nonsense Captain Nascimento.


Three years after the successful 2007 hit of ELITE SQUAD, director Jose Padilha returned with a better sequel here in ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN.

This time, the sequel saw Lieutenant-Colonel Nascimento (Wagner Maura) and second-in-command Captain Matias (Andre Ramiro) being accused by the Human Right Aids leader Fraga (Irandhir Santos) for executing the prisoners in cold-blooded fashion after a bloody siege in the maximum security prison of Bangu 1 in Rio de Janeiro. As a result, Nascimento was put on a desk job as the under-secretary of intelligence and Matias was transferred to the corrupted police force headed by Lieutenant-Colonel Fabio (Milhem Cortaz).

ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN made history at the box office when it became Brazil's highest-grossing domestic movie ever. The sequel also marked a significant improvement over the uneven first movie. Padilha's direction was more cohesive, while the story which expanded into a political thriller involving police corruption and dirty government, was as engaging as watching a great Sidney Lumet movie during his prime. The action, particularly the gun battles, were downright solid and the casts (particularly Wagner Maura and Irandhir Santos) delivered top-notch performances.


Based on the 1997 novel by Paulo Lins, CITY OF GOD chronicled around the slums in Rio during the 1960s and 1970s. Told from the perspective of a young man named Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues) as he looked back on his troubled childhood era till the day when he grew up as a 16-year-old aspiring photographer.

From the high-speed chicken chase sequence to the way director Fernando Meirelles stylized his movie in the utmost brutal and colourful fashion, CITY OF GOD was a unique cinematic experience. With the help of vivid cinematography by Cesar Charlone, Meirelles' virtuoso direction was electrifying and Braulio Mantovani's adapted screenplay was extraordinary. The groundbreaking success for CITY OF GOD (which also nominated for 4 Oscars including Best Director) had turned Fernando Meirelles into an international sensation, who went on directing Hollywood features such as 2005's THE CONSTANT GARDENER (Rachel Weisz won Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her activist portrayal as Tessa Quayle) and 2008's BLINDNESS (which starred Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo).

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