Brazilian writer-director Kleber Mendonça Filho discusses his new film Aquarius, creating its complex sound design, choosing the soundtrack, and Brazilian architecture.
One of the best films to come out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival was Brazilian writer-director Kleber Mendonça Filho Aquarius. The film tackles gentrification, the evolution of a city, class, race, and the importance of objects, places, and sound in constructing our memories and identities. After launching a protest against the current Brazilian government on the Palais steps at its Cannes premiere, the film has continued to be the source of much controversy and discussion in Brazil because of how brutally and frankly it treats current issues.
The film follows Clara (Sonia Braga), a widow and retired music critic who is the last person left in her apartment building after a major buyout that caused all the other tenants to leave. She refuses to leave on principle, because she won’t be chased out of her home, but also because her apartment is where she’s lived her life and made her memories. Were she to move, she’d lose a part of herself. As the construction company tries more and more threatening tactics to push Clara out of the building, she gets increasingly stubborn about standing her ground. As this real estate battle plays out, we also get a glimpse into Clara’s day-to-day life, her relationship with her family, and the class divide between her relatively rich family and the poorer parts of town.
I talked to writer-director Filho about how he created the sound mix for the film, how he chose its soundtrack, and how he thought about shooting Clara’s apartment given its importance in the film.
The sounds of the city and Clara’s apartment
Seventh Row (7R): How did you think about the sounds of the city and ocean and figuring out the sound mix in the film?
Kleber Mendonça Filho (KMF): I divided the idea of sound in the film in these three sections: the presence of the ocean, music, and the city sounds of the apartment and the building itself.
Aquarius takes place on the actual beach. It does have a very particular sound there. The sound of the ocean is very present. So that was the first step in the film.
The second interesting element is the use of music. I had this idea, which turned out to be correct, to actually record the music played in the film live on the set. There are many scenes in the film where someone, physically, plays a cassette or vinyl or even using an iPhone, plays different pieces of music on camera. This is something we tried, and it seems to work. The music had to be the perfect mixture of diegetic and non-diegetic. It had to sound very good. But at the same time, you should feel it was recorded in front of the camera.
The third element would be much the same way I used sound in Neighboring Sounds, which is developing this mix of city sounds, of people sounds. Together, that would induce or suggest something closer to genre cinema, particularly when she’s alone at home. There’s a lot of apprehension as to what is going to happen to Clara in the film. A lot of what goes on in people’s minds is suggested very subtly by the sound.