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Interview: Kleber Mendonça Filho on Aquarius

Brazilian Director Kleber Mendonça Filho directs his second feature film Aquarius after successfully entering the film festival circuit in 2012 with his debut Neighbouring Sounds. Starring Sonia Braga as a 65 year old retired music critic who, although remaining the last resident of the Aquarius complex in Recife, decides to give a battle and keep her property which unexpectedly takes on a journey back in time. Old memories and her life adventures are brought up to the surface of her consciousness, making Clara observe with a more mature now eye her past, while turing to encounter the future. Utterly enigmatic, stylish and moving, Aquarius is overtaken by the magnificent performance of Sonia Braga and the irresistible brazilian culture, so vividly and thoroughly explored by Filho. 

The film was selected in Official Competition at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and it now continues its journey in Sydney, in official competition and later on at Munich Film Festival. 

“We weren’t expecting the film to be ready for the festival. All my films, even the shorts took a while to complete. With Aquarius we edited every day for five months and it just happened faster. I think I will prefer this way of working from now on.” 

Having a strong female character is the power of Aquarius. “I never thought I could have a male character instead. Of course our society is quite chauvinistic, and Brazil wouldn't be an exception. I was always attracted to a character, a widow with there kids, one of which would be gay etc. It all came out in a natural way. A lot of Clara’s character was inspired by my mother. Of course it is not a biopic or a documentary, but people who are around me and knew my mother and the way I observe things, can feel this is very real.” 

When Sonia Braga received the script she responded in less than 48 hours talking about the script “as if she had seen the film already, she had imagined it all.” Braga, based in the US where she works for many years now, got excited about the idea of creating a powerful female lead who is nostalgic, but simultaneously hopeful for the new days to come. “I think Sonia shared with me this nostalgia for the past, but not in a way that we are stuck or absorbed in it. It’s always good to remember where you started and the past is always part of your life, but being pragmatic about life and using the past a stepping stone for the present and future is the way it must be.”

With great discourse around the misrepresentation of females in film and in the film industry as a whole, Brazil wouldn’t stay out of the picture. “It’s of course a big thing right now and the parameters are totally messed up. I lost track of how fast mainstream cinema started zoning out groups of actors and stressed because of their age, their looks or their gender. I really enjoy films like last year’s 45 Years by Andrew Haigh, which had a great female lead and of course age didn’t matter. It’s not always credible, even in mainstream films, to have a 17 year old character where the entire world revolves around them. If you get it right, and if you have an interesting character their age would be the last to think about.” 

- Interview / editing: Martin I. Petrov - 

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