When we discuss and talk about European cinematography, Portuguese is not one of the first that comes to mind. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pay attention to it and have a look at it. Portugal has also given us many movies that we must mention and definitely take into account.
Portugal is without any doubt overshadowed not only by other European cinematography, but Brazilian, too. Most movies in Portuguese we can think of are from Brazil. But this list will give you an idea of what Portugal has been filming in the last years and what you shouldn’t miss. These are the 15 best Portuguese movies of all time.
Recollections of the Yellow House (1989)
If you want to see Lisbon from a bit different point of view, you should search for this interesting and bit unusual movie. With its peculiar narrative, it might be a bit strange at the beginning but you will soon get used to it.
This comedy drama follows a disturbed young man who lives in a Lisbon apartment. After an unpleasant event, he gets thrown out and ends up in a mental hospital. He’s always been a bit off, always alone with his classical music and movies. We won’t see much of him in the institution, since he manages to escape it.
Abraham’s Valley (1993)
This is a story that reminds us that beauty is not everything and that a woman wants to be appreciated and loved. Ema has always been an object of men’s affection, but she remained innocent and pure. She marries a man she doesn’t love, but feels obligated to.
After they moved to their new home, Abraham’s Valley, her husband Dr. Carlo Paiva decided to sleep in a separate bedroom. His explanation concerns his late night work and he wants to be considerate. But Ema is too lonely and slowly decided to do the unthinkable. She finds a lover.
April Captains (2000)
A retelling of the famous Carnation Revolution, this movie gives us a look at some of the events and characters from it. It is a story of two young army captains who helped oust the right-wing regime that governed Portugal in the 1970s.
It is not only political, but also a story of friendship and love. It is a very good choice if you want to learn more about Portugal’s politics and its most recent history. And in general a part of the world’s history that isn’t maybe that well known overall.
Our Beloved Month of August (2008)
This documentaristic music drama will introduce us to a different part of Portugal. August is very busy in Portugal. Emigrants come back to their native villages and everything is full of festivals, good music and company.
We meet fifteen-year old Tina, her father and her cousin Helder. They are all connected in some way. Tina and Helder don’t hide attraction to one another and there seems to be something more between Tina and her father than a simple and normal father daughter connection. It is interesting to see a somewhat different side of Portugal, set in its rural parts, away from the big cities and its attractive seaside.
A story of a father’s grief and determination to find his kidnapped daughter. A beautiful, but a sad movie, with great performances, beautiful photography and excellent music. A movie that shows how far a parent is willing to go to protect a child.
Slow, but memorable and very innovative with storytelling, with an interesting perspective on Lisbon and its parts. You might be a bit bored at the beginning but give it some time and it will justify its popularity and the fact that it is one of the best Portuguese movies ever.
Blood of My Blood (2011)
Lisbon hasn’t got only sunny streets and a vibrant atmosphere. And what can show it better than movies? They often change our view of a certain town or people. This story is set in a gloomy and poor part of Lisbon, its slum Padre Cruz where people live in poverty and violence.
We follow a story of middle aged Marcia who lives with her two sons and sister Ivete. Her daughter is a good girl with a promising future, but her son always gets into trouble. Suddenly, both of them find themselves in unthinkable situations. Maria will take care of her daughter’s problem and Ivete decides to help her nephew. But this won’t turn out as planned.
Miguel Gomes is a Portuguese director whose name should be remembered. He has a pretty unique expression and his movies always give us a bit more than expected. This black and white indie movie puts three different women in its center.
Aurora is a talkative and superstitious octogenarian who lives with her housemaid from Cape Verde, Santa who is almost illiterate but experienced in voodoo. Their neighbor Pilar gets involved in their dramas and soon they decide to help Aurora and find her lost love.
Aniki Bobo (1942)
One of the earliest Portuguese movies and definitely one which should be remembered. This time we move to Porto and follow the story of a group of young delinquents and the rivalry between two boys. Carlitos is a shy boy who falls in love with Terezinha, the only girl in the group.
The problem is that their gang leader, Eduardo, is also in love with her. And he doesn’t like to lose or even get challenged by anyone. Since Carlitos is a new member of the gang, he is having a very tough time proving himself and fighting for the girl he cares for. This seemingly minor problem suddenly becomes a pretty big deal in this obscure movie,
In Vanda’s Room (2000)
A disturbing and very realistic movie, shot in a documentary style follows the everyday life of a heroin addict Vanda. Once again we are shown this not so bright side of Lisbon where we are taken to a community far away from people’s eyes.
The outskirts of Lisbon hide so much. Its people are depressed, poor and live meaningless lives. This docufiction shows the most desperate parts of humans’ lives, their inability to fight and acceptance of what they think they cannot change.
It took almost a year to shoot this movie, since there was only a small number of individuals who followed Vanda Duarte and a few Capo Verde immigrants who live in this part of town.
The Mutants (1998)
It seems that the Portuguese are set to direct dramas. They really have a lot to say in the genre and give us an array of interesting and very well acted and shot drama movies. And their topics are very often about the most disturbing and realistic characters and their situations.
This time we meet kids, misunderstood individuals who don’t understand the society around them. Andreia, Pedro and Ricardo are homeless, with no future, hope or love. They need to stick together and try to survive the merciless world that surrounds them. Each of them with their own problems, they must grow up among the ones who only want to use and take advantage of them.
Lisbon Story (1994)
As the name of the movie states, it is an homage to Lisbon, this beautiful, colorful city, always sunny and warm, but also one that hides a lot behind its perfect curtain. We follow a story of two men connected with one movie.
The director Friedrich Monroe must finish his silent black and white movie about Lisbon, but is having a hard time doing it. He asks his friend Phillip Winter to help him but disappears by the time he arrives. Winter decided to stay and enjoy the city and Monroe is seen going through the streets of Lisbon and catching some new pictures.
O sangue (1989)
A difficult, sad story about two brothers who live with their abusive father. They seem to love him despite his temper. He soon leaves them and they decide to cover it up. We end up in a pond of mystery and secrets not only from the boys, but everyone they are involved with.
Shot in black and white, this movie is not always easy to follow, but it has a certain artistic tone to it that simply accompanies you throughout the whole movie. You won’t be completely sure of what you are watching until its very end when all the missing pieces find their place.
Cats Don’t Have Vertigo (2014)
A type of a movie many of us love so much. No surprise it gained so much popularity. A story of two seemingly incompatible individuals, an 18 year crook who ends up on the roof of a Lisbon building and a recently widowed old lady. She lives in the apartment below. Against all odds, they become very good friends.
This is a feel good movie, one which you might even want to go back to. Sometimes what we need from a movie is likeable, a bit quirky characters and a lot of good dialogue. This movie will remind you that friendship can arise from the most unbelievable situations and that there are still people who are there for us with no hidden agenda.
The Tyrant Father (1941)
Many new Portuguese directors certainly found inspiration in old movies and the style of their directing role models. The Tyrant Father is certainly one of them. A comedy about two completely different individuals who fall in love.
Francisco sells shoes and Tato perfumes in the same street. Francisco is an amateur theatre actor and Tatao hates everything connected to theatre and adores cinema. Are they nevertheless made for each other or not will be answered through numerous unforgettable situations. For there is another guy who slowly starts to get attention from the whimsical Tatao.
The Immortals (2003)
We’ll finish the list with a completely different movie from the ones mentioned. This action packed war crime drama shows how people can get tired of their monotonous lives. Sometimes they just want something more.
Here we have four war veterans who meet every year and get together with four women. They talk about their war days. But as it often gets, they are not satisfied with that anymore. So they decide to rob a bank. This becomes chief inspector Joaquim Malarranha last case, one which he couldn’t have imagined to become so incredible. The discoveries he makes will make him question a lot.