Cannes Facetime: Kleber Mendonca Filho

Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho began his career as a film critic, attending Cannes for the first time in 1999. He hasn’t missed a year since, debuting his short “Green Vinyl” at Directors’ Fortnight in 2004. His first feature, “Neighboring Sounds,” positioned him as one of Brazil’s top talents, paving the way for follow-up, “Aquarius.”

In “Neighboring Sounds,” you worked with a number of non-professional actors. How did you come to cast Sonia Braga for this film?
Initially, I was playing with the idea of finding some amazing unknown sixtysomething woman who could play the role, but it’s too demanding. We’re with the character almost 100% of the time. She lives in the last old-style building on the safe side of Recife. (“Neighboring Sounds” was maybe 150 meters inland, whereas “Aquarius” takes place on the waterfront.) This construction company wants to buy her apartment so they can tear it down and build a modern building, and she doesn’t really like the idea.

An early synopsis suggests that Braga’s character has the ability to “time travel.” Can you explain?
I’m 47 now, and as I grow older, I have started to think of people as time machines. We pick up so many things throughout the years, and we start to feel a bit too experienced with life, and I thought a lot about that as I was writing the script. Also, film itself is like the perfect time machine in a way. You can do anything with time in film.

Speaking of film, you shot “Neighboring Sounds” on celluloid. What about “Aquarius”?
Up until two weeks before shooting, we were still trying to shoot on film, but we kept hearing stories that the labs had all been shut down, or else the more experienced people have left, or the machines weren’t working. Once I realized that, we went for the best possible digital camera there is, the Alexa, but it was not an artistic choice, and I think it’s sad that the market made the decision. That’s one of the themes that’s very strong in the film: the idea that a character is forced to comply with other people’s plans.

You’d actually written another script before “Aquarius.” What’s the latest with that?
The next film is called “Bacurau,” and we should be shooting later this year or early next year. It’s a horror thriller that takes place in a very small community in the Brazilian outback a few years from now.

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