With the Olympics placing Rio de Janeiro front and center in the international cultural conversation, we at NBC OUT would be remiss not to acknowledge Brazil's contributions beyond athletics. In addition to the country's indisputable impact on music and dance, it's essential to note Brazil produces some of the finest LGBTQ films in the contemporary queer canon.
With its vibrant multiculturalism and diversity, Brazil is home to the massive annual Pride parades in Rio and São Paulo, as well as the largest celebration of gender-bending openness and expression with Carnaval. This selection of films, from recent past and present, exemplifies Brazil's commitment to sharing LGBTQ stories with the world and gives Brazilians something to feel proud of on top of their Olympic hospitality.
"The Way He Looks"
This sweet and singular coming-of-age gem about Leo -- a blind high school boy yearning for individuality and romance -- surfaced in 2014 and charmed crowds while winning numerous Jury and Audience Awards on the festival circuit, including Berlinale's Teddy. When cute new student Gabriel enters their high school class, best friends Giovana and Leo decide to welcome him cheerfully, with Giovana quickly developing a crush. Soon it turns out that Gabriel may fancy Leo, who is also recognizing his attraction to men, and a love triangle ensues that alternately pulls each of them closer together and further apart. Featuring the jubilant, indie-pop sounds of Belle and Sebastian, "The Way He Looks" never treats the main character's blindness as a contrived hindrance, but as an inspired way to explore Leo's character arc toward both self-sufficiency and burgeoning gay love. And what makes Daniel Ribeiro's film so endearing and enduring is how it consummately and organically confirms that connection and sentiment are defined by elements and senses beyond what we can see. "The Way He Looks" is now streaming on Netflix.
This beautifully somber film opened NewFest's 2014 film festival at Lincoln Center and continues to reach audiences through its artfully rendered investigation into the promises we make and how we take care of each other and our families in both life and death. Featuring gorgeous cinematography and a heart-wrenching, cross-cultural love story at its core, Karim Aïnouz's sprawling, time-hopping drama begins with the tragic drowning of a German man. In the wake of his friend's death, Konrad meets the lifeguard, Donato, who tried to save the victim, and in the grieving process they make love in a car and begin an unexpected relationship. The poignant material is elevated by mesmerizing performances -- namely from Wagner Moura as Donato, whom audiences will recognize for his blistering, Golden-Globe-nominated turn as Pablo Escobar on Netflix's "Narcos." "Futuro Beach's" timeline-staggered, novelistic approach allows the audience to age along with the characters through bouts of death and reconciliation. "Futuro Beach" is now streaming on Netflix.
"Don't Call Me Son"
Anna Muylaert's sensitive and wry film revolves around a 17-year-old man who's in the process of exploring his sexuality and gender while being pulled between the underprivileged family he grew up with and his monied biological parents. "Don't Call Me Son" premiered this year in the Panorama section at Berlinale, where it won the Männer Reader Jury Award, and is important in the way it explores the protagonist's sexuality as well as its investigation into the mores that exist within the social structures of Brazil. Despite the loaded scenario, Muylaert elegantly underplays the melodrama, which involves the history of kidnapped babies, and instead focuses on the everyday situations of a young man questioning his sexual and gender identity -- between partying and hooking up with girls, kissing his male bandmate after practice and trying on lipstick. When Pierre meets his biological family, the rift between them is not just highlighted by the uber-white-washed bourgeois lifestyle, but within engendered expectations of the hegemony-adhering wealthy. Polo shirts and football don't interest Pierre as much as raggedy t-shirts, dresses and androgynous punk rock. Given its clear-eyed milieu, "Don't Call Me Son" is a lucid portrait of a young man as much as it is an exploration of gender identity through the lens of suffocating classism.
This four-part miniseries proves the renaissance of television isn't exclusive to North America. "The Nest" has been making the LGBTQ film festival rounds and recently won an International Special Mention Prize at Outfest LA. With this segmented narrative, co-directors Filipe Matzenbacher and Marcio Reolon (who previously hit the festival rounds with the lovely "Seashore") focus on Bruno, a young, gay soldier who goes AWOL and ends up in the South Brazilian town of Porto Alegre. The small port city, it turns out, is where his troubled brother, who lived most of his life fleeing society, was last seen. After checking into a shoddy motel, Bruno asks around the neighborhood in search of his brethren, and enters a colorful queer nightclub where he's taken under the wing by a vivacious crew of queers that openly accept Bruno. Through its four parts, "The Nest" takes inspired turns by presenting the story of an elderly gay academic and a no-nonsense bartender as it lays out the mystery of discovering a new form of family while in search of the remains of one from the past.
Nick McCarthy is the operations manager at NewFest, an LGBTQ film and media arts organization, and has written for such publications as Slant Magazine, Time Out New York and The Film Experience.