Sônia Braga is spectacular in this masterful Brazilian drama.
February 23, 2017
Memories don't just dwell in the mind — they also linger in places. Gazing at a piece of furniture may inspire recollections of younger, wilder days, just as playing a particular record in a specific room can conjure up visions of times gone by. In Aquarius, as retired music critic Clara (Sônia Braga) battles to save her seaside apartment from developers, this is what she's fighting for. Her home, where she raised her three now-grown children, is more than simply a lucrative piece of real estate in an area undergoing gentrification. As she's reminded with every glance, it's where her life has unfolded.
Understanding that sentiment is easy in Kleber Mendonça Filho's second fictional film. Or, to be more accurate, the Brazilian writer-director makes it look easy. Named after the structure at its centre, Aquarius starts with a flashback to the 1980s, ensuring that viewers will already appreciate just what Clara's home means to her once developers come calling. "This is a generous offer," she's told when her doorbell rings in the present. But you can't put a price on what Clara has, and what she wants to hold on to. Before long, they begin to push harder, and even her kids start chiming in. Still, our protagonist remains unfazed, embracing her quest to save her very own castle.
In truth, Clara's fight for her right to live where she wants is tied to and heightened by several other factors. Focusing on a beloved, rough-around-the-edges building that's being cast aside for supposedly bigger and better things, the film's statement on the current climate of upheaval in Brazil is inescapable. And then there's Clara herself: an older woman who refuses to be ignored or bulled by a younger generation that thinks they know better, or to behave in a more 'age-appropriate' way.
In short, Clara is a force to be reckoned with – and that goes more than double for the magnetic actor portraying her. Spying parallels between Aquarius' protagonist and its main place of interest aren't hard, and nor are they meant to be. But what would have likely been clumsy and clichéd in most other hands proves complex and nuanced here, largely thanks to Filho's leading lady. A stock-standard crank well past her prime Braga's character most definitely is not.
After spending much of her recent career popping up in American TV shows such as Luke Cage, Alias and Sex and the City, the veteran actress couldn't be more commanding, whether Clara is flirting with the young lifeguard across the street, dancing in her living room to Queen's 'Fat Bottomed Girls' or reminding her nemesis at the construction company that she won't be pushed around. The movie might be given room to grow and breathe over the course of 142 minutes, but Braga ensures that her performance is memorable from the outset. From the steely glint in her eye to the confident swagger in her walk, she makes Clara the passionate and determined 65-year-old everyone wants to grow up to become.