In the face of greed, human rights and decency are thrown out the window. Where there is the potential for profit, protection of those human rights and the environment is easily circumvented by government and corporate corruption. This is true anywhere in the world and especially in Brazil's political and business class but some filmmakers are protesting in creative, artistic and not so subtle ways.

Former film critic and director Kleber Mendonça Filho, who lives in the northeastern coastal city of Recife, where Aquarius takes place and where he also made his previous critically acclaimed film Neighboring Sounds (2012), has been making a name for himself with powerful films exposing the ruthless deceptive ways people employ to undermine the law and invade protected places.

Clara, (Sonia Braga) – Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985), a renowned music critic now retired has lived in the same beachfront apartment since she was a young girl growing up in the 60s sexual revolution. Her home is a sanctuary where she nurtured her children to adulthood and where she has fond memories of the music and family events she experienced. She has a deep ancestral connection to her neighborhood.

Clara is now the only resident left in the building after a property development company has bought out every other tenant in order to make way for a new luxury condo building. But no matter how much they try to persuade her to sell, Clara resists the company’s offers against her family’s wishes.

Aquarius balances Clara’s past history as a cancer survivor, which formed her strong independent personality and the bond with her environment, and her present struggle with a corrupt developer who resorts to various nasty and illegal means to force her to leave. 

Like termites, human greed eats away at protected lands and forests of the world as well as our historic homes and buildings destroying much of our cultural identity. Clara is determined to take a stand but she has no idea who she is up against and to what lengths they will go. Her rival has much more sinister plans than she can imagine.

When Aquarius opened at the Cannes Film Festival this year, Brazil’s female President Dilma Rousseff was impeached for breaking budget laws without any proof of wrongdoing. Mendonça, Sonia Braga and the rest of the Aquarius cast quickly decided to stage a protest at Cannes to call international attention to what they saw as a coup d’etat by corrupt opposition ministers.

Considered one of the front runners to be submitted for Oscar consideration, Aquarius was snubbed by the new government committee presumably for its exposure of Brazilian government corruption and the controversial denunciation at Cannes. In protest, the Brazilian film community responded by withdrawing some of their high profile films from contention including Gabriel Mascaro’s Neon Bull (2015), and Anna Muylaert’s Don’t Call Me Son (2016), whose film The Second Mother (2015) was Brazil’s official Oscar entry in 2015.

Resonating strongly, as art sometimes does, with events in the real world, Aquarius has since taken on a new level of metaphorical meaning of resistance against Brazil's corrupt political class and undemocratic government dealings that have been plaguing Brazil.

Aquarius is a timely artistic expression of human dignity, powerfully portrayed by Sonia Braga, and bold resolve in the face of cruel unscrupulous tactics used by government and corporate agents. Truth and justice are at stake but art and freedom of expression may also be suffering in the wake of the scandal.


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