‘Aquarius’ finally gets U.S. release

After a lengthy run on the international circuit, Aquarius, the most talked-about Brazilian movie of 2016, had its U.S. debut Thursday at the 54th New York Film Festival. Director Kleber Mendonça Filho and leading lady Sônia Braga were present for the screening and discussion session that followed.

The eagerly awaited sophomore film by the director of the acclaimed Neighboring Sounds (O Som ao Redor) was unveiled to the world in May at Cannes, and despite being well-received by reviewers it had more of a political impact than anything, as the Aquarius team protested the recent removal of President Dilma Rousseff on the red carpet.

The protest got Aquarius branded as a leftist film before anyone even saw it, and soon the word on the Brazilian street was that its storyline, about a widow trying to save an old building from a greedy real estate developer, was a call to action against the country’s rising right wing. With Brazil at war with itself as the 2016 Summer Olympics and Rousseff’s impeachment trial on the horizon, of course Aquarius and the creative team behind it quickly found themselves targeted for online abuse.

The controversy widened as Aquarius received an 18+ rating, which the country’s Ministry of Justice attributed to “explicit sex” and “drugs” — but Mendonça told the media the film received an unfairly harsh rating as retribution for the creative team’s unwavering stance against then-Interim President Michel Temer. To make matters worse, the special selection committee tasked with choosing Brazil’s submission for this year’s foreign-language Oscar race included Marcos Petrucelli, a noted film critic who had taken to Facebook to rail against the Aquarius team’s politics.

Mendonça cried foul, but Petrucelli stayed on the committee. In solidarity, directors Ana Muylaert and Gabriel Mascaro withdrew their high-profile films — Neon Bull (Boi Neon) and Don’t Call Me Son (Mãe Só Há Uma) from foreign-language Oscar consideration. Little Secret (Pequeno Segredo) was ultimately chosen to represent Brazil this year, but Vitagraph Films, which picked up Aquarius for U.S. distribution, said it will launch a campaign to get Braga a Best Actress nomination — an honor only received thus far by one Brazilian, Fernanda Montenegro.

Aquarius opens in New York today, and will receive a fairly wide U.S. release (by specialty film standards) over the next month. Here are the trailer and the release schedule.

Release Schedule

Written by Sergio Barreto

Brazilian-American editor, web developer and (occasional) event promoter. As founder and content director for this site, I keep an eye on what's wrong with Brazil, but what really makes my heart beat faster is sharing the exciting things happening in Brazilian tech, music, film, and other creative industries.

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