Film poster
Directed byKleber Mendonça Filho
Written byKleber Mendonça Filho
Produced bySaïd Ben Saïd
Emilie Lesclaux
Michel Merkt
StarringSônia Braga
CinematographyPedro Sotero
Fabricio Tadeu
Edited byEduardo Serrano
Release dates
  • 17 May 2016 (2016-05-17) (Cannes)
  • 1 September 2016 (2016-09-01) (Brazil)
Running time
140 minutes
Box office$1.1 million[1]

Aquarius is a 2016 drama film written and directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and starring Sônia 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 d'Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.[2][3]

The film generated uproar in Brazil due to its political connotations, especially because it was released at the apex of the country's political crisis. The film's cast and crew actively positioned itself against what they considered to be a coup d'état in Brazil, showing protest signs at Cannes.[4]

A number of controversies were raised over the film, including its nonselection as the country's entry to the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards by the Ministry of Culture’s committee,[5] which has been seen as a supposed act of retaliation by Brazil's new government.[6]

It was nominated for several awards, including the Independent Spirit Award for Best International Film and the César 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 cinéma and The New York Times.


In 1980, Clara and her family celebrates her aunt's birthday at the Aquarius apartment building in Recife after overcoming a breast cancer that cost her right breast. In the present day, Clara, now a retired journalist and writer, is still living in the same apartment, but alone, since her husband died 17 years before and her three children have moved out. Her only constant company is her maid Ladjane.

She refuses to accept a buy-out from Geraldo, head of Bonfim, and a development 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 children's advice to accept the offer.

The developers, especially the proprietor's grandson, American educated designer and head of the new Aquarius project Diego, become frustrated with Clara's 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, a lifeguard, and Cleide Vieira, a lawyer, she breaks into some apartments and confirms they are swarming with termites.

Accompanied by her brother Antonio, her nephew Tomás (Pedro Queiroz) and Cleide, she goes to Bonfim to confront Diego and Geraldo over the dirty deeds and the termites.[5]



Critical reception

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 97% based on 112 reviews, with an average rating of 8.10/10.[7] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 88 out of 100, based on reviews from 22 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[8]

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 Sônia Braga", yet criticizing the film's ending.[9] Jay Weissberg, in Variety, compared the film to Mendonça Filho's 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 Braga's acting and Mendonça Filho's directing skills.[10]

In Brazil, the film has engendered both standing ovations in cinema room and calls for boycotts.[5] 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.[11] O Estado de S. Paulo declared that the film was "brilliant, a commendation to resistance" and "very pleasant to watch", while commenting on its submersion on political discussions.[12]


Award/Festival Category Result
Cannes Film Festival[13][14] Palme d'Or Nominated
Queer Palm Nominated
Sydney Film Festival[15] Best Film Won
Transatlantyk Festival[16] Best Film Won
Jerusalem Film Festival Best Film Nominated
Mar del Plata International Film Festival[17] Golden Astor Nominated
Silver Astor - Best Actress for Sônia Braga Won
Audience Award Won
ACCA Award Best International Film Competition Won
Lima Film Festival[18][19] Jury Award Won
Best Actress for Sônia Braga Won
Munique International Film Festival[20] Best Film Nominated
Zurich Film Festival[21][22] Best Internacional Film Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards[23] Best International Film Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society[24][25] Best Foreign Language Film Nominated
Best Female Actor for Sônia Braga Won
Havana Film Festival[26] Best Actress for Sônia Braga Won
42nd César Awards[27] Best Foreign Film Nominated
Cartagena Film Festival[28] Best Film Won


Aquarius has generated widespread controversies in Brazil and abroad. The film's political tone and its time of release have prompted public outcry, both of support and of criticism.

Protest at Cannes

During the first exhibition of Aquarius at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, the film's cast showed protest signs written in Portuguese, English and French criticising Brazil's political turmoil of the time. The signs read messages such as "Brazil is not a democracy anymore", "Sauvez la démocratie brésilienne" ("Save Brazilian democracy"), and "Dilma, vamos resistir com você" ("Dilma, we will resist with you"). Immediate internet response followed, with supporters of Dilma's 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".[29] Aquarius distributing company then used this sentence in the film's promotional poster, along three other positive quotes, what has been understood as an act of subversion.[30]

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 Temer's controversial rise to power. After this, similar protests became common in Brazil at venues that exhibited the film.[31][32][33] Those protests were commonly observed during the film's ending credits, with critics of Temer's regime shouting command words suggesting that the president took over the country by means of a "coup".[34]

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.[35] However, the criteria used to support the rating were challenged on the grounds that Brazil was the only country in which Aquarius had been, or was going to be, distributed to give the film such a rating, and that other more graphic films in Brazil had received less restrictive ratings. Protest ensued and, at the day of the film's premiere, the Ministry reduced the rating to 16 years old.


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  3. ^ Debruge, Peter; Keslassy, Elsa (14 April 2016). "Cannes 2016: Film Festival Unveils Official Selection Lineup". Variety.
  4. ^ Shoard, Catherine (17 May 2016). "'Brazil is not a democracy': Cannes contender's cast stage red carpet protest". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
  5. ^ a b c Romero, Simon (27 September 2016). "Brazilian Politics Smother a Film's Oscar Ambitions". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
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  22. ^ "Olivier Assayas honored at the Zurich Film Festival" (in French). Retrieved 9 October 2022.
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  27. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (24 January 2017). "César Awards Nominations: Verhoeven's 'Elle,' Ozon's 'Frantz' In The Lead". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 9 October 2022.
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