From favelas to upbeat samba, Brazil's beachside city is a place of contrasts where Carnival unites everyone. Here's how to get the party started.
It sounds unlikely but despite centring on a mountainous rubbish tip outside the city, the documentary Waste Land (2010) is uplifting. It follows famed expatriate Brazilian artist Vik Muniz as he uses rubbish to create portraits of the catadores (trash-pickers) who had built a vibrant, caring community. The money he raised for them from sales of the artworks was important but it was the project itself that fundamentally changed them.
◖Rio (2011): This animated family movie about a coddled parrot reluctantly spreading his wings during Carnival features the city’s best locations, from the Christ the Redeemer statue to the beaches far below.
◖ City of God (2002): If you can stomach the relentless R-rated violence, this critically acclaimed film is a powerful examination of what it takes to survive in the favelas (slums).
Image: Vik Muniz’s Marat (Sebastião), documented in Waste Land
Having focused on cybersecurity and organised crime in his previous books, Misha Glenny delves into the complex world of one of Rio’s biggest former drug bosses in Nemesis (2015). His subject, known as Nem, turned to crime to pay for his daughter’s medical treatment and ended up running a cocaine empire that funded a basic welfare state for the 100,000 people whose lives he controlled.
◖ Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil Through Soccer (2014): “Football-mad” doesn’t begin to cover how strongly the locals feel about “the beautiful game”. David Goldblatt casts light on the country as a whole through its larger-than-life characters, monumental highs and devastating lows.
Brazil is synonymous with two musical styles: Afro-Brazilian samba and bossa nova, the jazz-influenced take on samba heard in The Girl from Ipanema. The album Nova Bossa: Red Hot on Verve (1996) is a 23-track primer in the genre’s biggest names, including João Gilberto and Sérgio Mendes.
◖ Black Orpheus (1959): While many still rate the movie retelling of a Greek myth against a Carnival setting, others (including Barack Obama) think it does the characters a disservice. But there are no complaints about the soundtrack, which ranges from raucous to romantic.
◖ The Rhythm of the Saints (1990): Paul Simon’s arguably finest album explores his fascination with Brazilian music.