10 Directors to Watch: Kleber Mendonça Filho Cast Brazilian Legend Sônia Braga in ‘Aquarius’

The Brazilian critic-turned-director followed up his acclaimed debut 'Neighboring Sounds' with a film that landed him in competition at Cannes.

kleber mendonca filho aquarius
filho: Courtesy of kleber mendonca filho

Though controversial for his politics back home, Brazilian writer-director Mendonça has made his country proud by being invited to premiere his sophomore feature, Sônia Braga starrer “Aquarius,” at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. A former critic and avid cinephile, Mendonça also serves as the artistic director for his hometown Janela Intl. de Cinema do Recife, an international festival in his hometown.

Mendonça’s knowledge of film history is vast and his taste refreshingly catholic. He jokes, “As much as I remember ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ as an amazing filmgoing experience at 13, films like ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ or ‘Small Change’ or ‘After Hours’ actually made me want to make films.”

Like his critically acclaimed debut, “Neighboring Sounds,” “Aquarius” astutely observes how society works and how people interact based on unwritten social rules and unspoken tensions. Though both films were inexpensively made near his home in Recife, Mendonça isn’t opposed to the idea of leaving Brazil to make movies. “It is just a case of me seeing whether I would be able to contribute in a personal way to the whole conversation,” he says.

Does that mean he might follow in the footsteps of fellow Brazilian directors Fernando Meirelles, Walter Salles, and José Padilha with an international project anytime soon? “I have had some good prospective conversations about possible ideas in the U.S. and in Europe, but they are still early contacts. And I have read some scripts — a new experience for me, since I have written everything I directed so far.”

In the meantime, another Brazilian project is already in the can. The forthcoming “Bacurau,” which he co-directed with Juliano Dornelle, requites his life-long crush on genre films, centering on a high-concept human safari. “Right now it feels like a thriller and a Western, though horror elements are still visible,” he says. “It is about a small peaceful community made up of wonderful, beautiful characters whose hidden talents for violence are quite remarkable if the situation demands it.”

Age: 48
Influences: John Carpenter, Brian De Palma, Dario Argento
Reps: N/A