Aquarius, the celebrated film by director Kleber Mendonça Filho, has met with controversy as it opens on Brazilian theaters on September 1st. Starring Sônia Braga, the film was the only Latin American production participating in the official competition of the Cannes Film Festival last May. At the world premiere of the film in the French Riviera, the filmmakers and cast staged a political protest against the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, which apparently is having direct consequences in its Brazilian release.
With its upcoming North American and U.S. premieres at the Toronto and New York film festivals, Aquarius has largely been considered a natural candidate to represent the South American nation at the Oscars. Yet, the impartiality in the Brazilian race to select their official Oscar candidate has been questioned this year with the appointment of film critic Marcos Petrucelli to the selection committee, who has ferociously condemned the political protests at Cannes. According to local Brazilian media outlets, the Brazilian Oscar committee composed by nine members has denied any partisanship in the selection process.
Today, the filmmakers of Bull Neon / Boi Neon, in solidarity with the politicized reception around Aquarius, have announced today the withdrawal of their film in their race for Brazil's Academy Awards candidacy for Best Foreign Film. In a statement, director Gabriel Mascaro has said that he doesn't feel comfortable participating in a selection process "of public interest that has shown questionable impartiality." And added, "I hope to encourage other Brazilian films in a similar situation to think the legitimacy of the process."
The theatrical release of Aquarius has met some additional controversies. Just few days ago the Ministry of Justice gave a 18+ classification for the film—the equivalent of an 'R' rating in the United States—for "explicit sex and drugs." The distribution company filed an appeal, objecting the rating and claiming that other productions with similar scenes had a received a rating for children at least 16 or older. The appeal was dismissed.