I’ll admit, I haven’t watched many films actually set in Portugal. The majority of the movies in Portuguese that I’ve seen are set in Brazil. I think that’s, unfortunately, the case for a lot of people. Even when you type “Portuguese movies on Netflix” into the search bar, a huge catalogue of Brazilian movies appear.
Portugal’s cinema landscape might seem insubstantial, but I think, looking at European and world cinema generally, it’s just overshadowed by Spain, Brazil and others. Because there are some wonderful films in the Portuguese language that are actually “set in Portugal” movies.
As I’m also an enthusiastic traveller, I’ve selected some of the best Portuguese films that will also inspire you to visit this gorgeous coastal country in the Iberian Peninsula. Mainly in the capital city of Lisbon, but other locations feature too, including Porto. And I’ve tried to pick films from a variety of eras, too.
Best Portuguese Movies that will make you want to visit Portugal
1. Aniki Bóbó (1942)
Director: Manoel de Oliveira Language: Portuguese Run time: 68m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Okay, I’m sorry, we’re starting with a very obscure movie. But Aniki Bóbó seems like a really important Portuguese film, especially at the time of release. Plus, it’s an example of neorealism so it inevitably features many real-life locations. Specifically, around the city of Porto including the Douro River.
Aniki Bóbó is about a gang of children and the dynamic shift that occurs when they accept a new member, Carlitos, into their group. If you’re desperate to find this one, I’d suggest looking wherever they sell used DVDs. Or maybe MUBI (world cinema streaming service) will have it one day!
2. Recollections of the Yellow House (1989)
Director: João César Monteiro Language: Portuguese Run time: 122m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Speeding forward 40-odd-years, Recollections of the Yellow House doesn’t seem very wanderlust-inspiring on the surface but is offers a non-touristy look at Lisbon with a whimsical, unique narrative. And it won the Silver Lion award at the Venice Film Festival!
Recollections of the Yellow House follows the life of one man down on his luck. He rents a room in a cheap boarding house on Lisbon’s waterfront before his own misguided actions mean he is cast out and branded mentally ill. Often left wandering the steep Lisbon streets, he does what he can to keep up his spirits. Again, if you want to watch Recollections of the Yellow House then check wherever they sell used DVDs. Hey, it’s not my fault the best Portuguese movies are hard to find!
3. Abraham’s Valley (1993)
Director: Manoel de Oliveira Language: Portuguese Run time: 187m 86% Rotten Tomatoes
It’s director Manoel de Oliveira’s second entry on my list of Portuguese movies and we’re only three down! Though he was a very prolific filmmaker. Abraham’s Valley is an epic set mid-20th century and Ema is a young woman who weds her father’s friend. He’s an older man who loves and respects her but she does not reciprocate those feelings and eventually finds comfort outside of her marriage.
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Abraham’s Valley (though it was Portugal’s nomination for the Academy Awards that year), so I cannot offer any explanation as to why a cookie cutter romance tale is *checks notes* OVER THREE HOURS LONG. But I do know it’s set in the province of Lamego in Northern Portugal. So, if you’re making a trip there, Abraham’s Valley would be the ideal film to watch!
4. Lisbon Story (1994)
Director: Wim Wenders Languages: Portuguese, German, English Run time: 100m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Wim Wenders is one of the most coveted German filmmakers and his 1987 masterpiece Wings of Desire features on my list of top films set in Berlin. Seven years later, he directed Lisbon Story, a movie about a German director who attempts to shoot a silent black and white film in Lisbon and calls in a sound engineer friend to help him bring the movie to life.
It’s amusing how this film developed. What started as a documentary project about Lisbon to mark the city’s title of European Capital of Culture in 1994 grew into this offbeat fictional piece. Lisbon Story is multi-cultural, super indie and classic film festival fodder.
5. April Captains (2000)
Director: Maria de Medeiros Language: Portuguese Run time: 123m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
A dramatic retelling of an important moment in Portuguese history named ‘Carnation Revolution’ or ’25 April’, April Captains is about two young army captains who participated in the military coup that ousted the right-wing, fascist Estado Novo regime in 1974.
April Captains mainly shot in Lisbon and it’s a fantastic film to watch if you want to know more about Portugal’s recent history.
6. Alice (2005)
Director: Marco Martins Language: Portuguese Run time: 102m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Okay, this isn’t really a film that will make you want to visit Portugal. It’s about a missing child. If there’s any topic that is a big turn off in the travel realm, it’s possible abduction or trafficking. But Alice is a visually stunning and gripping film that presents Lisbon in a completely different light. Specifically, a blue-toned and smokey light as opposed to the sunshine yellow-tinged Lisbon we’re all used to in photographs.
Alice has been missing for months during the timeframe of the film, and her father habitually traces her last known footsteps. The same streets, shops and landmarks in Lisbon, over and over again. Never giving up hope.
7. Our Beloved Month of August (2010)
Director: Miguel Gomes Language: Portuguese Run time: 147m 85% Rotten Tomatoes
Now we’re getting to the Portuguese movies that a) are more widely available on streaming/physical media and b) show off Portugal’s best bits. Our Beloved Month of August is directed by one of the best Portuguese filmmakers working today. It’s a docu-drama following the lifestyles and social calendars of young people during one summer month. You know, like the UK’s Made in Chelsea or the USA’s Jersey Shore but less trashy.
8. Blood of My Blood (2011)
Director: João Canijo Language: Portuguese Run time: 140m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Set over just one week in the life of a family living in Lisbon, Blood of My Blood is a social realist drama that also turns the touristic dreamy and idyllic view of Portugal’s capital city on his head. It’s got a great female-lead cast but it’s not the most lighthearted of Portuguese movies.
Blood of My Blood is a film that hustled, appearing at tonnes of film festivals including Toronto International Film Festival and San Sebastain International Film Festival. But it paid off because this film was yet another Academy Award entry for Best Foreign Film (has the Oscars ever actually nominated a Portuguese film?* Do it, you cowards!) and was the most commercially successful film in Portugal in 2011.
*My research tells me no! Portugal currently holds the record for most submissions to the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars without even one nomination. I’m sure it’s an accolade they can’t wait to discard.
9. Tabu (2012)
Director: Miguel Gomes Language: Portuguese Run time: 118m 88% Rotten Tomatoes
This is filmmaker Miguel Gomes’ número dois movie on this list and it’s not his last. A truly eccentric piece of cinema, Tabu is about a retired woman, living in an apartment block in Lisbon, who believes she owned a farm at the foothills of Mount Tabu in Africa in a past life. She enlists the help of her neighbour’s maid from Cape Verde to assist her in finding a man who she also believes is her connection to this former self.
Yup, it’s completely bonkers. But critics and film festival goers alike absolutely loved Tabu. So maybe it’s worth a shot, eh? It will be easier to get a hold of than most of the other Portuguese movies on this list, I assure you…
10. Night Train to Lisbon (2013)
Director: Bille August Language: English Run time: 111m 41% Rotten Tomatoes
This film set in Lisbon really is an indulgence on my part. It’s not a Portuguese-language film and it’s not even very good. But, it is wanderlust-inspiring and will make you want to visit Portugal. I’ve recommended a lot of gritty Lisbon-based dramas on this list, so I had to include one dreamy romanticised movie for all you other soppy sods out there…
Night Train to Lisbon stars Jeremy Irons as a Swiss professor who, after experiencing a life-altering event, decides to be spontaneous and unintentionally commits himself to the pursuit of knowledge and adventure in Portugal. What the film lacks in substance, it makes up for in pure escapism.
11. Arabian Nights (2015)
Director: Miguel Gomes Language: Portuguese Run time: 382m 88-100% Rotten Tomatoes
And finally, this trilogy of films are some of the best movies in Portuguese to ever be released. So unique, so creative… A project unlikely to ever be greenlit by a film studio. Yet somehow, it exists! Gomes’ trilogy is set in Portugal, inspired by current events but also by the One Thousand and One Nights Middle Eastern folk tales. The three films are named Arabian Nights: Volume 1 – The Restless One, Arabian Nights: Volume 2 – The Desolate One (known as the best) and Arabian Nights: Volume 3 – The Enchanted One.
Often, political and social commentary films are realistic, solemn and despairing. It’s refreshing to see films be relevant to the modern-day but also be innovative, imaginative and make you want to visit. Snaps for Portugal!
Other Portuguese movies/films set in Portugal: The Tyrannical Father (1941), In Vanda’s Room (2000), Get A Life (2001), Amália (2008), Porto (2016), That Good Night (2017)
And those are the best Portuguese movies that will inspire you to visit Portugal! Have you seen any of these Portuguese films or would you add any movies from Portugal to the list? Let me know in the comments below!