Aquarius (2017 Dir. Kleber Filho Mendoca)
Aquarius is a moving, character-driven story led by a superb performance by Sonia Braga, who gained fame for her appearances in 'Kiss of the Spider Woman', 'The Milagro Beanfield War' , 'Doña Flor and her two Husbands', to mention a few.
Braga plays Clara, the last remaining resident in a smart but ageing beachfront apartment building. When Diego (Humberto Carrão) turns up trying to persuade her to sell out so his development company can replace it with a soulless new block, Clara resists, and her resilience and fierce spirit shine through as she pledges to only depart in death.
Mendoca’s films reflect a fine attention to detail, imbued with a distinctive warmth and deep understanding of the characters, they have a strong personal element, even autobiographical, as he sets his films in neighbourhoods that he himself grew up in. He have opened up our eyes to how people live in Recife, a seaside town in the north east of Brazil, where he was born and raised. Already famed for its prolific artistic productivity in the plastic arts, Recife has now also become a cinematic hub, encouraged and supported by the local government.
Aquarius deals with property ownership as a political tool, with the main character under siege from property developers who have no respect for the true value of things, only their cost. It is no coincidence that Clara’s apartment is decorated with a huge Barry Lyndon poster, a story of how seeking money for its own sake is useless. This emphasises that Clara’s territory, her home, is being violated, and threatened. This is where a person is supposed to have a refuge, to feel ’at home’ and safe, so the disturbing elements run deep.
Clara, who Mendoca admittedly says he partly based on his own belated mothers character, is an intriguing woman - a sensual person, frustrated by her lack of sex. A charming silver fox turns out to be cruelly uninterested in her once he realises she has had breast surgery. One of the ways that the property firm finds to hassle her is using the flat above as the location for a porn shoot. But instead of disgusting Clara, it intrigues and amuses her, and inspires her to hire an escort for the evening.
While Filho does not disguise Clara’s imperfections, including the usual snobbery and disdain that the Latin American middle-classes show towards their maids, he highlights the emotional, personal theme of being discarded and rejected due to age and imperfections, to make way for the new, like the actual apartment building, Clara’s collection of vinyl LPs and perhaps even Clara herself.
Aquarius doesn’t end in the expected way, and perhaps doesn’t end at all. Yet, this is a richly painted portrait of Brazilian society, of corporate greed and, ultimately, of a woman of a certain age.
Aquarius is in cinemas from March 24th
Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho
Production: Dora Amorim/ Saïd Ben Saïd / Emilie Lescaux
Cinematography: Pedro Sotero/ Fabricio Tadeu
Editing: Eduardo Serrano
Cast: Sonia Braga/ Maeve Jinkings/ Irandhir Santos/ Humberto Carrão, Zoraide Coleto/ Fernando Teixeira and others.