AQUAR­IUS, drama, not rated, in Por­tuguese with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

Clara has lost a lot. Her youth is long gone, her hus­band is long dead, her nest is empty, and her right breast is a dis­tant mem­ory. And now they’re com­ing for her home. But she has a lot left, too: She has plenty of money, an in­domitable at­ti­tude, an un­quench­able beauty, and a lust for life — and the great So­nia Braga to play her.

Clara lives in the Aquar­ius, an ocean­side apart­ment build­ing in the Brazil­ian coastal city of Re­cife. She’s lived in the build­ing most of her adult life, and for all that time it was a flour­ish­ing place. Now a de­vel­oper wants to tear it down and build a high-rise. Clara’s the last hold­out in an other­wise empty shell. The com­pany wants her out, and they’ll play nice as long as they think it might get them some­where. Af­ter that, the gloves come off.

We first meet Clara (played as a young woman by Bár­bara Colen) some 30-odd years ear­lier, in a pro­logue set in the same apart­ment at the sev­en­ti­eth birth­day party of her adored Aunt Lu­cia (Thaia Perez). We learn there of Clara’s can­cer sur­vival, and we also see her role model in Lu­cia, a white-haired beauty in whom (as we see in a flicker of ex­plicit car­nal mem­ory) the spark of sex­ual de­sire still burns. Now Clara her­self (Braga) is near­ing that age. She lives alone, sur­rounded by mem­o­ra­bilia of her life and ca­reer as a mu­sic critic. She’s still a sen­sual woman, but she doesn’t have a man in her life; we get a glimpse of the dif­fi­cul­ties she faces when, af­ter a won­der­ful scene of a girls’ night out with her friends, she is picked up by a suave, sil­ver-haired gent.

When the real es­tate game gets dirty, it gets re­ally dirty. The de­vel­oper’s grand­son Diego (Hum­berto Car­rão), a smooth-talk­ing busi­ness-school grad­u­ate, turns the screws by stag­ing a loud porn party in the empty apart­ment above Clara, and that’s just the start of the ne­far­i­ous schemes.

Braga (Dona Flor and Her Two Hus­bands, Kiss of the Spi­der Woman )is the main event here. Her im­pe­ri­ous, stylish, gutsy Clara is the pri­mary rea­son to see this movie, but not the only one. The sup­port­ing cast is good, the cin­e­matog­ra­phy (by Pe­dro Sotero and Fabri­cio Tadeu) is so evoca­tive you can prac­ti­cally smell the ocean air, and the writ­ing — aside from a lightly-sup­ported twist at the end — is en­gross­ing.

Brazil­ian film-critic-turned-direc­tor Kle­ber Men­donça Filho, whose first fea­ture, Neigh­bor­ing Sounds (2012), es­tab­lished his cre­den­tials as a ma­jor tal­ent, has built his story around a num­ber of themes that in­clude fam­ily and class and sex and dig­nity and preda­tory busi­ness prac­tices. The doomed Aquar­ius and the em­bat­tled Clara are surely metaphors for some­thing; whether it’s mod­ern Brazil and its re­cently im­peached fe­male pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff, or some­thing else en­tirely, is for us to fig­ure out. — Jonathan Richards

Down but not out: So­nia Braga

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