When people talk about learning a language, they far too often focus entirely on the rote memorization of vocabulary or difficulties of grammar. And don’t get us wrong, that’s certainly a part of it, but language learning is far more than that. Learning Portuguese isn’t all looking at textbooks, it’s also getting in touch with Portuguese culture and media. And one of the best ways to do that is by watching Portuguese movies.
Film is a great way to supplement your language learning, in general. If you’re just starting out, you can use subtitles to get exposure to Portuguese words while still being able to keep track of what’s going on. And as you improve, you can rewatch movies and turn off the subtitles, or try a new film solely in the language you’re learning. And in addition to language exposure, you’ll also be getting a look at Portuguese and Brazilian culture.
The question is, where do you get started? We picked seven of our favorite Portuguese movies that are a great jumping-off point into the world of non-English cinema.
7 Portuguese Movies To Watch
Eu não quero voltar sozinho (“I Don’t Want To Go Back Alone”)
Eu não quero voltar sozinho, by Brazilian director Daniel Ribeiro, is a short film, coming in at only 17 minutes. For a beginner, that makes it a perfect option. It also features vocabulary beginners will likely have encountered already, including introductions and directions. The movie is about a young man named Leonardo who falls for a new student at his school, which complicates his relationship with one of his other friends. It’s not long, but it manages to explore the intense emotions of high school and young love.
This short film can be found in a number of places around the internet, including YouTube. And if you watch the movie and fall in love with the characters, you’re in luck! The concept was expanded into a feature-length film called Hoje eu quero voltar sozinho (the English title is “The Way He Looks”).
A mão que afaga (“The Comforting Hand”)
Another short film, A mão que afaga clocks in at a slightly longer 19 minutes. This 2012 movie, directed by Gabriela Amaral Almeida, is about a woman who is struggling as a parent and as a telemarketer, with much of the drama being around her nine-year-old son’s birthday party. The telemarketing scenes will be useful for beginners learning Portuguese telephone etiquette, and the dialogue in general is slow enough that it isn’t too difficult to understand.
This short film, which won a number of awards in Brazil, can be found on Vimeo.
If you’re not into horror, you might want to skip to the next suggestion. But if you are, step right up to a weird and fascinating movie: 2019’s Bacurau. The movie is set in a fictional town in Portugal, where strange things start to happen after the death of the 94-year-old matriarch. While it transcends genre in a number of ways, the overall message is an elegant denunciation of colonialism. Some of the movie is in English, which means that you’ll have time to catch your breath between scenes spoken in Portuguese. Just be warned if you’re squeamish: it’s hard to read subtitles with your hands over your eyes.
Bacurau can be found on Kanopy and the Criterion Collection, and it can be rented on various other streaming services.
Orfeu Negro (“Black Orpheus”)
If you want to watch the classics of Brazilian cinema, watching the 1952 movie Orfeu Negro is a must. The movie is a retelling of the classic Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. For those who need a refresher, it’s a story of two young lovers that is interrupted when Eurydice is bit by a snake and killed. Orpheus, not willing to give up so easily, travels to the underworld and makes a deal with the god Hades to return Eurydice to the world of the living. Things do not work out. In Orfeu Negro, the setting is transported from ancient Greece to 1950s Rio de Janeiro in the middle of Carnaval. The movie has influenced a number of filmmakers (and Barack Obama), and it’s also famous for its musical contributions to the genre bossa nova.
This movie is available on HBO Max, Kanopy and the Criterion Collection, and can be rented on various other streaming platforms.
Democracia em Vertigem (“The Edge of Democracy”)
The past few years have been extremely turbulent in Brazilian politics. If you haven’t been paying attention, you’ll definitely want to look into the topic. And one great option for doing so is Democracia em Vertigem, a 2019 documentary that covers the presidencies of Lula de Silva and Jair Bolsonaro. The film has been praised as an important look at the rise of fascism, and filmmaker Petra Costa has received accolades for her interviews of high-ranking politicians throughout the film. Make sure to brush up on some government-related vocabulary before you watch.
The film is available on Netflix. There are both English and Portuguese versions available, so adjust the language settings to get the best learning experience you can.
While Brazilian films make up the majority of this list, there are also a number of Portuguese movies from Portugal (though finding them in the United States often presents a challenge). Babbel specializes in Brazilian Portuguese, but it’s always worth branching out to the other parts of the Portuguese-speaking world. One way to do that is by watching the 2012 film Tabu. The movie is an indie production shot in black-and-white. It’s the story of three strange old women living in Lisbon, Portugal. The action arises when it’s revealed that one of them had an affair in her youth with a younger man, and the second half of the story flashes back to her youth. While technically a story about love, the story also interrogates Portugal’s history of colonialism in Africa.
Tabu can be found on the streaming services Kanopy and the Criterion Collection.
Cidade de Deus (“City of God”)
One of the best Brazilian Portuguese movies of the past 20 years — if not ever — Cidade de Deus is a pretty intense film, which is why we’re listing it last. It’s a movie about organized crime in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, spanning decades. The vocabulary in the film is pretty advanced, with lots of slang and crime vocab you might not encounter in your everyday Portuguese lessons. Still, it’s a phenomenal movie, which is worth watching as a way to remind yourself of the kind of art you’re better able to understand as you learn a new language.
The movie can be found under its English title with an HBO Max subscription, or it can be rented from a number of other streaming services.