Sônia Braga in Cannes selection "Aquarius"

By Moira Sullivan

Aquarius directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho was part of the official lineup of the recent Cannes Film Festival. The contemplative and well-crafted film rests on the laurels of Brazilian actress Sônia Braga who plays Clara, a 66-year-old woman who has lived in the same apartment for over 25 years. A management firm has persuaded everyone in the Aquarius building to move out so that they can presumably demolish it and put up a new one - all except Clara and her housekeeper. The film is divided into three parts ‘O Cabelo de Clara” (Clara’s Hair), ‘O Amor de Clara’  (Clara’s Love), and ‘O Câncer de Clara’, Clara’s Cancer.

Aquarius opens with a series of black and white stills of the Boa Viagem beach front in Recife during the 1980’s, tree lined, spacious, a few cars notably several VW Beetles and the foreboding presence of many high rise apartment buildings. The opening song “Hoje” (Today) accompanying the photos is written by Brazilian singer/songwriter Taiguara whose work was often censured in Brazil.

A 30-year-old Clara (Barbara Colen) is playing on the beach with her brother Antonio and his wife and kids. In their Chevy with a prominently displaced Recife license plate, Clara plays a hit tune on the car stereo written by John Deacon from Queen, “Another One Bites the Dust”. A 70 year birthday party for Clara’s aunt Lucia (Thaia Perez) is being held in her apartment and her husband Adalberto (Daniel Porpino) anxiously awaits her. The tribute to Aunt Lucia by her grand nieces and nephews lists her accomplishments and major life events such as being imprisoned presumably during the military coup of 1964, but her mind is far off in sentimental nostalgia for her lover Augusto. The images from her memory are raw and unexpected. Kleber Mendonça Filho’s opening surprise may detract from political realities but as Lucia mentions, her little niece left out the sexual revolution. Perhaps the somber portrait of the exploitation of Recife is too strict a portrait and Sônia  Braga as Clara who made her career playing a seductress needs to do more than exercising and swimming on the beach, napping in a hammock and watching her grandchildren.  

Along with the tribute to Aunt Lucia, Adalberto makes a tribute to Clara who has successfully recovered from breast cancer. The next scene is set in the same apartment ca 2014 with some architectural changes. Clara has returned from the beach and removes her swimsuit revealing a mastectomy scar. Kleber Mendonça Filho makes it a point to show that Clara is still attractive, still takes care of herself and can still attract men.

The management team clearly wants Clara out and are behind stunts such as packing the building with church going people and without notice, renting out the empty apartment to a group of men and women directly above Clara who play loud music and party.

Photographs are used in the film like vinyl records and vintage cars to evoke the past – pictures of powerful men lining restaurant walls, digital photos on the internet of the management team, and family albums. Gazing upon these affects Clara’s dreams which are depicted with regularity.

Aquarius is a memory bank where the artefacts of yesterday are uncovered by the day to day modern  Recife. Sônia Braga deserves great parts after an entourage of fluffy films from the past. Her talent as a serious actress is outstanding in this film and she continues to garnish international attention. Braga who became a US citizen in 2003 appears in Netflix’s Marvel series “Luke Cage” and in a forthcoming film opposite Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon in John Turturro’s  Going Places which builds on his role as the bowling king Jesus Quintana in the Coen brothers 1998 hit The Big Lebowski.

© 2016 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 10/26/16
Movie Magazine International