ⓘ Aquarius (film)

Aquarius (film)

ⓘ Aquarius (film)

Aquarius is a 2016 Brazilian–French drama film written and directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and starring Sonia Braga as Clara, the last resident of Aquarius building, who refuses to sell her apartment to a construction company that intends to replace it with a new edifice. It was selected to compete for the Palme dOr at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.

The film generated uproar in Brazil due to its political connotations, especially because it was released at the apex of the countrys political crisis. The films cast and crew actively positioned itself against what they considered to be a coup detat in Brazil, showing protest signs at Cannes.

A number of controversies has been raised over the film, including its nonselection as the countrys entry to the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards by the Ministry of Culture’s committee, which has been seen as a supposed act of retaliation by Brazils new government.

It was nominated for several awards, including the Independent Spirit Award for Best International Film and the Cesar Award for Best Foreign Film. The film was included in a number of critics lists of best films of the year, including from Sight & Sound, Cahiers du cinema and The New York Times.


1. Plot

In 1979, Clara Barbara Colen celebrates New Year with her family at the Aquarius apartment building in Recife after overcoming a breast cancer that cost her left breast. In 2016, Clara Sonia Braga, now a retired journalist and writer, is still living in the same apartment, but alone, since her husband died 17 years before and all her children have moved out. Her only constant company is her maid Ladjane Zoraide Coleto.

She refuses to accept a buy-out from Geraldo Fernando Teixeira, head of Bonfim, a developing company that wishes to reclaim her apartment in order to replace the old building with a larger and homonymous edifice, even though all the other apartments are already vacant and despite her own childrens advice to accept the offer.

The developers, especially the proprietors grandson, American educated designer and head of the new Aquarius project Diego Humberto Carrão, become frustrated with Claras resistance and try to disturb her through a number of means, including throwing parties at the apartment right above hers and burning mattresses at the parking lot. Eventually, in an open argument, she berates Diego that education without decency amounts to nothing.

Clara starts digging up dirt on Bonfim through her contacts. Also, she learns from two former employees of the company that Diego ordered termite nests to be installed inside empty apartments to force Clara out. With the help of her friends Roberval Irandhir Santos, a lifeguard, and Cleide Vieira Carla Ribas, a lawyer, she breaks into some apartments and confirms they are swarming with termites.

Accompanied by her brother Antonio Buda Lira, her nephew Tomas Pedro Queiroz and Cleide, she goes to Bonfim confront Diego and Geraldo over the dirty deeds and the termites.


2. Cast

  • Sonia Braga as Dona Clara.
  • Barbara Colen as younger Clara.
  • Julia Bernat as Julia, Tomass girlfriend.
  • Irandhir Santos as Roberval, a lifeguard.
  • Maeve Jinkings as Ana Paula, Claras daughter.
  • Pedro Queiroz as Tomas, Claras nephew.
  • Zoraide Coleto as Ladjane, Claras housekeeper.
  • Humberto Carrão as Diego, the construction company representative.

3.1. Reception Critical reception

Aquarius currently holds a 97% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 109 reviews, with an average score of 8.14/10. On Metacritic, the film holds a Universal Acclaim rating of 88, based on 22 reviews.

Peter Bradshaw, writing for The Guardian, awarded the film 4 stars out of five and called it "beautifully observed and surprising", "a richly detailed character study, immersing the audience in the life and mind of its imperious main character, Clara, who is addressed as Dona Clara, commandingly played by Sonia Braga", yet criticizing the films ending. Jay Weissberg, in Variety, compared the film to Mendonça Filhos previous project, Neighboring Sounds, calling it "a more subtle film but no less mature, a calmer film but no less angry", and strongly complimented Sonia Bragas acting and Mendonça Filhos directing skills.

In Brazil, the film has engendered both standing ovations in cinema room and calls for boycotts. Major newspapers Folha de S. Paulo and O Estado de S. Paulo both lauded the film, with the first declaring that Mendonça Filho possesses an "absurd mastery of cinema", praising his camera works and use of sound and music. The newspaper also praised the film for its bravery in discussing Brazilian social issues. O Estado de S. Paulo declared that the film was "brilliant, a commendation to resistance" and "very pleasent to watch", while commenting on its submersion on political discussions.


4.1. Controversies Protest at Cannes

During the first exhibition of Aquarius at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, the films cast showed protest signs written in Portuguese, English and French criticising Brazils political turmoil of the time. The signs read messages such as "Brazil is not a democracy anymore", "Sauvez la democratie bresilienne" "Save Brazilian democracy", and "Dilma, vamos resistir com você" "Dilma, we will resist with you". Immediate internet response followed, with supporters of Dilmas impeachment suggesting boycotting the film. Among these, the right-wing columnist Reinaldo Azevedo wrote that "it is the duty of people of good will to boycott this film". Aquarius distributing company then used this sentence in the films promotional poster, along three other positive quotes, what has been understood as an act of subversion.


4.2. Controversies Cinema protests

Aquarius was released in Brazil at the Festival de Gramado, when it provoked standing ovations and shouts of "Temer Out", a constant scream of protest in Brazil of those who criticize President Temers controversial rise to power. After this, similar protests became common in Brazil at venues that exhibited the film. Those protests were commonly observed during the films ending credits, with critics of Temers regime shouting command words suggesting that the president took over the country by means of a "coup".


4.3. Controversies Film rating

Initially, the Ministry of Justice of Brazil gave Aquarius an 18 years old rating, attributed to sexual content and scenes of drug use. However, the criteria used to support the rating were challenged on the grounds that Brazil was the only country in where Aquarius had or was going to distributed to give the film such a high rating and that other more graphic films in Brazil had received less restrictive ratings. Protest ensued and, at the day of the films premiere, the Ministry reduced the rating to 16 years old.

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