The Daily Telegraph

The everyday magic that memory can work


If you thought Sonia Braga had the role of a lifetime in Héctor Babenco’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, wait until you get a load of Dona Clara. The heroine of this tremendous second film from Brazil’s Kleber Mendonça Filho fits a lifetime, and more, into one role.

Clara is the last-resident-standing of a picturesqu­ely crumbling low-rise beachside block – the Aquarius – in Recife. And much as a local property developer might hope otherwise, she’s going nowhere. The company wants to buy her out, bulldoze the place and throw up a skyscraper, but the 65-year-old swats away their ploys with leonine hauteur. She’s a breast cancer and chemothera­py survivor, and her long black hair, which often hangs down her back in a Modigliani sweep, stands as glossy proof of her fearsome capacity for perseveran­ce.

Close up, Mendonça’s film is about Clara’s ongoing war of wills with the developers – and particular­ly the owner’s son Diego (Humberto Carrão), newly returned from business college in America with a slippery smile and an industrial-strength brass neck. But take a few steps back and it becomes a broad-canvas celebratio­n of neighbourh­ood life – like Mendonça’s 2012 debut, Neighbouri­ng Sounds.

Clara may be the motor that keeps the film’s intricate story turning, but every last cogwheel proves to be indispensa­ble, from Clara’s longservin­g housekeepe­r Ladjane (Zoraide Coleto) to her grown-up children and favourite nephew Tomas (Pedro Queiroz), the lifeguard (Irandhir Santos) who watches her with a mix of protective­ness and reverence while she takes her morning dip – even the hunky gigolo she summons to help her escape the pressures of the present.

More? Step back further and things get metaphysic­al. Clara’s home isn’t just where her heart is: her home and heart aren’t easily divisible, and her memories are tucked away in her belongings just as tangibly as the old newspaper clipping she pulls from a faded LP sleeve. In the film’s gorgeous, toast-coloured 1980-set prologue, the young Clara (played by Bárbara Colen) throws a 70th birthday party for her redoubtabl­e aunt Lucia, who keeps smiling distracted­ly at a sturdy wooden cabinet while her grandchild­ren recite a sweet speech.

A juicy flashback reveals why: much earlier in Lucia’s life, that cabinet played a pivotal role in an ecstatic and unforgetta­ble sexual encounter. Forget Faulkner’s doom-laden maxim about the past never being dead, or even past. In Aquarius, that’s cause for celebratio­n. Mendonça’s filmmaking has an effortless visual and narrative flow that makes it ideal for capturing the everyday magic that memory can work. Madly overlooked by last year’s Cannes jury, and denied an Oscar run by Brazil’s politicall­y charged selection board, Aquarius hasn’t had it easy.

But perhaps that’s oddly apt. It’s a film that turns a struggle into pure pleasure.

 ??  ?? The role of a lifetime: Sonia Braga as the defiant Clara
The role of a lifetime: Sonia Braga as the defiant Clara

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