Luzes, câmera, ação!
That’s the Brazilian Portuguese version of “lights, camera, action!”—and you’re about to need it.
Prepare yourself for a Portuguese-language movie night of epic proportions.
We’re going to introduce you to some of the greatest hits of Portuguese-language movies from both Portugal and Brazil.
Before you start popping that bag of popcorn, let’s take a look at why and how you should be using films as a tool to study Portuguese.
Why Learn Portuguese with Movies?
- Take a break from studying, without actually taking a break from studying. Sometimes your brain gets plagued with study fatigue. You’ll know you’ve got it when you just can’t focus on your Portuguese textbook one minute longer. Information is falling right out of your head, and you can’t seem to memorize one more thing. This is the perfect time to take a break, and movies allow you to do this while continuing to teach you language lessons.
- Become more worldly. Movies allow you to get immersed in a whole new world of language and culture. A full movie gives you ample time to feel surrounded by new faces, places and language lessons. This is especially handy for Portuguese, where there are two major dialects to explore (European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese) plus a whole range of regional dialects within those. If you happen to find Portuguese-language films from Cape Verde or elsewhere in Africa, Asia and beyond, you’ll encounter even more varieties of the language to learn.
- Pick up a wider variety of Portuguese vocabulary and accents. As noted above, watching movies will allow you to glean unique features of each Portuguese dialect out there. After watching characters speak their local language for over 60 minutes, you’re guaranteed to know some of their slang, euphemisms and other quirks. This depends as much on the characters themselves—their personalities, education levels and socio-economic classes—as it does on the region. You can either choose movies in accordance with which type of Portuguese you want to learn, or you can go exploring! Either way, pay close attention to all the factors that could influence language usage.
- Make your Portuguese more natural. Sitting through a whole darn movie will let you really get into the Portuguese zone. You’ll hear a constant stream of conversational language as delivered by native speakers, and this will attune your ears to the rhythm of real conversation. You can start to notice where grammar rules are flouted, where letters aren’t pronounced fully and other places where natives play with their language.
How to Learn Portuguese with Movies
Now, you can’t just learn those above lessons by watching a movie any old way. There are some different ways to approach this to make movie-watching an effective learning strategy.
- Passive learning. This style of learning occurs when you’re not really paying attention to the language. You’re watching casually, without a care in the world, and you’re soaking up the language coincidentally. This only works to a certain extent—and it’s most valuable for high-intermediate, advanced and near-fluent students of the language who can understand about 70 to 80 perfect of what’s going on in the flick. At lower levels, you should only attempt more passive learning with subtitles on, either in English or Portuguese.
- Active learning. This style of learning is used by watching carefully, paying close attention to the vocabulary and grammar being used, taking notes and practicing along the way. Buy yourself a $1 notebook and write “Portuguese-language Movie Notebook” right on the cover to make your intentions clear. Don’t write anything else in this notebook. Fill the pages with your observations and any unknown words you encounter.
If you’ve watched a movie once passively, it’s always a good idea to revisit it for an “active” watch. Doubling down on your first passive watch with an active watch is extra effective, because you already know the gist of the story—now you can go through and fill in any blanks. Was there a phrase you didn’t fully understand? A scene that was a little confusing? Lavish a little extra eyeball attention on these parts.
- Interactive learning. Here’s a brand of learning that’s less often discussed. You can actually go one step further and make your movies an interactive learning experience.
Talk back to the film, responding to the characters when they make a statement or ask a question. Shout out some Portuguese exclamations like “legal!” (cool!—in Brazilian Portuguese), “nossa!” (Brazilian Portuguese expression akin to the English “oh my God!”) and “que gostoso!” (Brazilian Portuguese for “how delicious!”—perfect for when a delicious dish appears on-screen).
If you’re feeling especially ambitious and want to improve your speaking skills, try muting the sound and speaking the lines the subtitles give you.
Just be sure to pay attention to the language used while moving forward with the following films. Is it Brazilian or European Portuguese? This will affect not only the accent but also vocabulary, slang, usage of shared words, grammar quirks and even many spellings of words in the subtitles.
The 10 Best Brazilian and Portuguese Movies for Authentic Language Learning
First, we’ll start with some hits from Brazil.
1. “Cidade de Deus” (City of God)
If you click on another list of the best Portuguese-language movies and this one isn’t listed in the number one spot, turn back immediately. It’s not only a legend of Brazilian cinema, but it’s perhaps one of the best movies of all time—in any language.
There’s love, funk, hippies, drug wars, resistance, intrigue, art and dreams of a better life in the favelas. Better still, the musical legend Seu Jorge—who has an emotional stake in the film since he’s originally from a favela—plays an important character. A tight-knit group of young boys start out in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s and create their own life stories based on this shared background. While some of the kids wind up growing into the culture of crime and violence, the protagonist, Buscapé, tries to escape—and expose—the madness with photography.
Just keep in mind that this film is very intense, dark and violent, so it might be one to avoid for anyone averse to that sort of thing. If you embrace the darkness, prepare for a heart-pounding ride that’s equal parts thrilling and sentimental. You’ll never root as hard for any character as you will for Buscapé.
When they’re not spitting strings of slang, the characters are relatively easy to understand overall, so it’s a good film for any learner at any level. You’ll mainly be exposed to the Carioca dialect of Portuguese, which is what’s spoken in Rio de Janeiro and the surrounding regions. You can also pay attention to the word choices and pronunciation of the various characters to pick up some more differences—Buscapé speaks in a notably more educated fashion than his peers.
You might also consider making a run to a local store to pick up a DVD that has both Portuguese audio and subtitles, since that’s perhaps the best setup for learners watching this one.
2. “Estômago” (Estomago: A Gastronomic Story)
Here’s a weird, gritty, dark film about food, sex and crime. At its heart is the unlikely tale of a man who lives to cook and cooks to survive. A very black comedy, this international award-winner is as crazy as it is artistic, and it’s definitely not suitable for the learner who’d like to avoid seeing violent crimes occurring.
That being said, if you take the plunge into this wild adventure of a film, you’ll be rewarded with food-porn style shots of beautifully prepared plates, fascinating character portraits, stellar dialogues and a twisting, turning, never-saw-it-coming storyline.
This was filmed in the Brazilian state of Paraná, so you’ll hear more of the Caipira accent (which is present in São Paulo and surrounding areas, including Paraná).
3. “Central do Brasil” (Central Station)
It’s an Academy Award winner with a whole lot of heart, following a former schoolteacher, Dora, who writes personal letters to make just enough money to survive. Her main clientele are illiterate train passengers who are passing through the station and need to communicate with friends and loved ones, but don’t have the writing skills to do so.
Follow Dora’s story as she starts to shed some hard layers of bitterness while becoming entangled in the personal life of a young letter-writing client.
This film is based in Rio de Janeiro, so you’ll again more exposed to the Carioca dialect of Portuguese by watching. It’s also a slightly less slang-heavy option for learners who are looking to learn more standard Portuguese.
4. “Paraisos Artificiais” (Artificial Paradises)
When you think of traveling to Brazil, do you first think about dreamy, seaside paradises? Then party on with this colorful explosion of a film. A DJ and her close friend travel to one of Brazil’s premiere beaches to party hard during a major electronic music festival and, as you might imagine, they have some extremely memorable experiences along the way.
Follow these girls as an intense week-long rave imprints itself on their lives for the long-term, and learn plenty of casual language and youthful Brazilian Portuguese expressions along the way.
5. “O Homem do Futuro” (The Man from the Future)
Looking for some campy, science fiction fun? This movie will give you everything you long for: a more-awkward-than-mad scientist, time travel, questionably scientific occurrences, particle accelerators, romance, nerdy jokes and an exploration of what it might be like to get one big do-over to change your life.
This rom-com is guaranteed to make you smile with its special brand of silliness. Plus, it was shot beautifully (which is astounding considering that it was completed on a relatively low budget) around Rio de Janeiro and the characters are all quintessentially Brazilian in their language usage, accents, mannerisms, gestures and exclamations. All this adds up to give you a very immersive movie-watching experience.
Watch it on: YouTube
6. “Astral City: A Spiritual Journey”
Have you heard of Chico Xavier? You might want to watch this documentary from The History Channel about his life and legend, in order to truly understand “Astral City” in full. The main premise is that this story was told by a spirit who communicated with Xavier long ago, and told tales of his journey through the afterlife.
This spiritual fantasy involves the passage of the ghostly protagonist from life to limbo and the hereafter, while resolving loose ends with loved ones along the way. Of course, it’s all imaginary, but it touches on some spiritualistic teachings of Xavier’s and other schools of thought. It makes some big statements on life and death, and subtly asks you to think and envision what life may exist after death.
Regardless of your beliefs, this is a pretty fascinating film with lots of interesting imagery and sentimental discussions.
7. “Era Uma Vez…” (Once Upon a Time in Rio)
Meet Dé, a poor boy from the Cantagalo favela of Rio de Janeiro, and Nina, a wealthy girl from a glitzy oceanside neighborhood. This is your classic, Shakespearean tale of star-crossed lovers, and—without spoiling any of the juicy surprises that this movie is loaded with—you’ll get a dose of childhood trauma, coming of age, young love, drama, forbidden rendezvous and tragedy.
Yes, as you may have gleaned from the title, this film is all about Rio and the associated regional language. However, there’s plenty of linguistic variety to enjoy here. Pay close attention to the way all of the different characters speak, starting with the language usage and accents of the two main lovebirds, and following through to the supporting characters you’ll meet in both Dé and Nina’s families and communities.
8. “Tudo Isto É Fado” (Fado Blues)
We’ve already seen plenty of crime flicks on this list, or at least stories that involve criminal behavior in some way, but here’s one that takes a different approach to crime—one that’s both slick and humorous. The main characters often toast to crime being the great equalizer of all humanity. After all, anyone can do it, right?
In all seriousness, this comedy is ideal for anyone who’s interested in learning about both European and Brazilian Portuguese dialects. One of the main characters hails from Brazil and makes his way to a small-potatoes rural town in Portugal, where he meets his soon-to-be partner in crime. You’ll get a great side-by-side look at the accents and language usage thanks to this combination of hilarious characters.
Another perk is that you’ll get a taste of fado, a traditional style of Portuguese music which provides the soundtrack to this film.
Watch it on: YouTube
9. “Capitão Falcão” (Captain Falcon)
In this satirical comedy-slash-action film, Portugal’s official superhero, Capitão Falcão, identifies and fights the perceived communist threats of the 1960s. Yup, he’s a fascist superhero who fights communism. If that sounds odd, that’s because, beneath the layer of utter silliness, this movie touches on a real story that’s very important to the history of modern Portugal.
Read more about the fascist dictatorship which established the Estado Novo (New State) in the 60’s, and the tongue-in-cheek humor of this movie will become all the more apparent. This movie is as much of a lesson in history, society and culture as it is in European Portuguese.
Perhaps since it’s a relatively recent release, this movie isn’t currently available online (legally). Keep your eyes peeled for a possible appearance on Netflix and Amazon.
10. “As Mil e Uma Noites” (Arabian Nights) Vol. I, II and III
In this three-part film, chapters from the original “Arabian Nights” have been taken and adapted to tell historically important Portuguese stories.
Yes, this epic cinematic undertaking from Portugal lasts three long volumes, and it’s worth watching every dramatic minute. This is especially true if you’re interested in learning European Portuguese, and even more so if you’re seeking to expand your knowledge about the modern history of Portugal.
The even-paced, overly-exaggerated Portuguese that’s spoken is a godsend to learners of the language, as it’s exceptionally easy to understand.
Great movie options, right?
I’m willing to bet you’re eager to start watching.
Finally, it’s time to pop that popcorn, prop up some comfy pillows on your sofa and start watching.
Let us know how much Portuguese you end up learning during your next movie night!
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