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