This article serves as an introduction to a special issue on intimacy and cordiality in contemporary Brazilian cultural production. It traces these purported “national traits” back to their exploration in Gilberto Freyre’s renowned Casa grande & senzala (1933) and Sérgio Buarque de Holanda’s Raízes do Brasil (1936). While Freyre emphasises the formative influence of the close ties between Afro-Brazilian wet-nurses and landowning families in the colonial era, Holanda’s schematisation of the “cordial man” focuses on the sinister consequences of the Brazilian drive towards intimacy. The articles enclosed are informed by Holanda’s suggestion that the country’s colonial heritage and patriarchal culture has complicated the institution of a clear distinction between the private (familial) and public realms. The recent wave of Brazilian cinema and TV series that focuses on the figure of the maid evocatively foregrounds the continuing primacy of intimate relationships in Brazil, and the enduring relevance of Holanda and Freyre’s insights; this includes films by Anna Muylaert and Kleber Mendonça Filho, which are analysed in this issue. The link between cordiality and cruelty is also explored to provide a context for articles that reflect on the frailties of Brazilian state apparatuses, which have led to social breakdown, and even to the use of coercion or torture. Keywords: Brazilian cinema, cordiality, domestic workers, Gilberto Freyre, intimacy, maids, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, television.