Brazil is going through a sad period right now.
Maybe you've read about it, maybe not, but we're in the final stage of a "soft" coup d'etat—and no, the "soft" part is no consolation at all. After 16 years of defeat to left-leaning candidates to the presidency of the country, the right-wing opposition decided that democracy was overvalued and basically conspired to impeach our first female President, Dilma Rousseff, using BUDGET ISSUES to "justify" it (even though the exact same practices were used by every president before her and by the interim president after he took the power from her). Her vice-president, by the way, not only conspired with the opposition to take her place, but also put in his cabinet the same people who were defeated in our last general elections.
Unfortunately, a government that has no legitimacy is often an authoritarian government—and that's exactly what we've been seeing in Brazil lately. During the Olympics, for instance, people were actually ARRESTED for carrying signs against acting president Michel Temer—and this week, one of the senators working to "impeach" Dilma requested a court order FORBIDDING people to call him for what he is: a putschist. (In other words: I could be in trouble just by writing this.)
And that brings us to "Aquarius," a spectacular Brazilian film that was selected as part of the competitive slate during the last Cannes Film Festival and was actually the fifth best-evaluated by the critics of Screen Daily. Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho (I wrote about his film "Neighbouring Sounds" for RogerEbert.com), "Aquarius" is a magnificent character study that should potentially guarantee an Oscar nomination for Sônia Braga, who offers the best performance of her long career and was lauded at Cannes this year. However, during the festival, Filho and his cast and crew protested the coup in Brazil, bringing the world's attention to what's happening here—and Temer didn't like that a bit.
Now, Temer's "government" is punishing Kleber.
At first, they flirted with the idea of firing the filmmaker from the foundation he's been administering brilliantly for more than a decade, having basically revived its film theater. After the news reverberated negatively in Brazil, they abandoned the idea. Instead, they are now trying to actually hurt the movie itself—just this week "Aquarius" got a rating of 18+ (no one less than 18 years old can watch it), which is commercially damning, as you can imagine. But "Aquarius" DOES NOT justify such a heavy rating—and, as a matter of fact, movies that were way more graphic in terms of sex and violence got considerably lighter classifications.
Interim President Temer apparently is now keen on the idea of stopping "Aquarius" from being Brazil's representative at next year's Academy Awards. In order to accomplish that, a "film critic" that has been badmouthing "Aquarius" and its director FOR MONTHS was appointed to the committee responsible for choosing the country's nominee.
Oh, and he attacked the movie and its creators without even watching it.
The "critic" in question is also a right-wing journalist who proudly supports the coup (oh, I'm sorry: the "impeachment") and is a friend of the guy appointed by Temer's government to deal with our film industry.
So, today, two very established filmmakers decided to withdraw their movies from consideration for the spot as Brazil's nominee: Gabriel Mascaro, director of the magnificent "Neon Bull," and Anna Muylaert, who was last year's choice (with the equally brilliant "The Second Mother") and was just invited by the Academy to become a member of the Director's Branch. (Muylaert withdraw her new movie, "Don't Call Me Son," which played during the 2016 Berlinale.)
The idea now is for most of the pre-candidates to be withdrawn, bringing the decision back to the hands of the artistic class and taking it away from the dirty politics of Temer and his representatives.
And that only makes sense because, at the end of the day, "Aquarius" is indeed a phenomenal movie. When you watch it without putschist filters, of course.