[:en]Brazilian Moviemaker: It’s a Coup d’État
A Brazilian Filmmaker Travels Through Time, With Sonia Braga
by Nicolas Rapold, New York Times
In the 2012 drama “Neighboring Sounds,” the Brazilian filmmaker Kleber Mendonca Filho dissected the class tensions of a single street in Recife. Dazzlingly shot and edited, the debut feature was chosen as Brazil’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. Its whisker-sensitive feel for the tensions in daily lives, and the centuries of history that lie beneath, seemed to take the pulse of Brazilian society.
Four years later, Mr. Mendonca Filho will present his new feature, “Aquarius,” in competition at the Cannes International Film Festival. The selection comes as Brazil struggles with a real-life political crisis to rival anything cooked up on film: a deeply divisive attempt to impeach its populist president, Dilma Rousseff.
“What is going on now is a coup d’état, albeit a very modern and cynical one,” Mr. Mendonca Filho, a former film critic, said via email, while putting the finishing touches on the sound mix for “Aquarius.”
“Aquarius,” filmed last August and September, before the current phase of the political crisis started, touches on urban development and the attendant possibilities of municipal corruption, and seems to speak to the bigger picture of power politics and malfeasance in Brazil.
Sonia Braga plays a retired music journalist, Clara, who feuds with developers intent on tearing down her building. (“Aquarius” is the building’s name.) Shot on location, the film has a cast of more than 50 characters, including nonprofessionals. Mr. Mendonca Filho said he found a special satisfaction in portraying Clara’s sensitive state of mind and a sense of traveling through time.
“Time traveling is something that fascinates me, especially because as you grow older, you realize traveling through time is a strange, sad and sometimes very happy truth about living your life,” Mr. Mendonca Filho said. He added that in “Aquarius” he’d used “very classic tools of filmmaking to present my own vision of ripples in time.”
The time-fluid role seems a suitable match for Ms. Braga, 65, a storied face on Brazilian screens big and small. She starred in Bruno Barreto’s popular “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands” (1976) and Hector Babenco’s Academy Award nominee “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1985), as well as appearing in two popular telenovelas, “Gabriela” and “Dancin’ Days,” in the 1970s.
Ms. Braga said “Aquarius” would be her first trip to Cannes since visiting for the 25th anniversary revival of “Kiss of the Spiderwoman” in Cannes Classics. She became a fan of Mr. Mendonca Filho after seeing “Neighboring Sounds,” which had a successful outing for an independent film at the Brazilian box office.
“That movie has this timing, a way of telling a story I haven’t seen before,” Ms. Braga said in an effusive phone interview. “Kleber really is unique in his way of showing images, besides being an encyclopedia of movies.”
Mr. Mendonca Filho, who hails from a younger generation, said casting Ms. Braga lent a certain weight to his film. She was, as he put it, “a part of my life” before they ever worked together.
“Besides her history, Sonia of course has a very strong screen presence — a wonderful actress and a film star in the classic sense,” he said. “It was great to work with such a screen persona in the decidedly smaller scale of my own films.”
Mr. Mendonca Filho made a number of shorts before his two features, dating back to 2002’s “The Little Cotton Girl.” Before that, he shot various works on video but quit because of the low quality. There followed a lengthy stint as a film critic (including trips to Cannes). He has also worked as a film programmer at the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation in Pernambuco, a city that federal and local financing has helped turn into a center for independent-minded cinema, away from the more commercial production of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Pernambuco also provided a vivid backdrop for Mr. Mendonca Filho, who prides himself on grounding his features in the precise feel and detail of urban spaces. “Neighboring Sounds” was set in his own neighborhood, shot with wide angles; Clara’s building is in an upper-class seaside quarter known as Boa Viagem Avenue.
“To me the film is about a city, a building and the woman that lives in it,” Ms. Braga said. “That is the simplicity of this story.”
Her character, Clara, is widowed with three grown children, but despite the suggestions of friends and family, vows to remain in her two-story building — where she is the sole remaining resident — until her death.
Mr. Mendonca Filho was asked if the premise of “Aquarius” anticipated something about the current moment in Brazilian politics.
Despite his own fervent feelings about his country’s “young democracy,” Mr. Mendonca Filho said he was intent on giving viewers a chance to process “Aquarius” for themselves.
“Good films or books pick up on things in society, or in a country, but it is too early to say if this film does that before the film actually screens and people react to it,” he said. “Only then will I know. I am curious myself.”