Aquarius

 

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Life in Brazil as experienced by one family whose key figure is a woman.

 

Aquarius

Sonia Braga

 

Having previously worked on short films and a documentary, the Brazilian writer/director Kleber Mendonça Filho made his name in 2012 with his first feature Neighbouring Sounds. Set in his home town of Recife, it impressed one with its ability to convey atmosphere and stood as evidence that Filho had a natural sense of how to handle wide-screen 'Scope images. However, my own appreciation of that work was considerably reduced by the fact that it was a long piece that echoed certain movies by Robert Altman in that it sought to combine a myriad of small tales and incidents while failing to give them real weight. Aquarius at 146 minutes is even longer, but I admired it far more because, while retaining both the setting and the positive qualities of Neighbouring Sounds, it offers a single narrative and has at its heart a superb performance from Sonia Braga as the film's heroine, Clara who, now a widow, has reached her sixties. The actress is quite outstanding in this crucial role.

 

Despite what I have said above, Aquarius does not offer a dramatic story told in a conventional manner. That's the case even though Clara's situation is that of an older woman living alone who finds herself pressurised by a construction company which, having purchased all the other apartments in the seaside block where she has lived for years, is now desperate to acquire hers. Clara has enough money not to be tempted by their cash offer, but at the heart of her resistance is the fact that this apartment with its interior decorated to her own taste has come to represent home - not just through being an advantageous current abode well situated but as a place that speaks to her directly of times past. It reminds her of life with her late husband and of all the years in which she had watched her children growing up. Thus it is that, even when the developers start to use underhand methods to influence her, her attitude to them only hardens.

 

Filho's special quality lies not in telling dramatic stories but in the way in which he observes everything - it is unhurried and often feels like eavesdropping on life itself.  In this three-part film, we start in 1980 with the seventieth birthday of Aunt Lucia (Thaia Perez) who emerges as a strong character and consequently as a figure foreshadowing what Clara herself will become. Bárbara Colen impresses as the young Clara who has had to fight illness, but we mainly see Clara later on when she has been a widow for some seventeen years. The family members may have their own issues to deal with, but Filho does not build up any detailed sub-plots around them preferring instead to evoke a potent sense of family in an everyday way. For Filho sex is part of the everyday - not to be dwelt on particularly but to be recognised frankly, and it is this that has resulted in Aquarius having an '18' certificate. But, if it is the portrayal of a determined woman who refuses to be put down that makes Aquarius special, it is Filho's ability to make us share Clara's perceptions and feelings past and present through applying his own unique brand of quasi-minimalism that is crucial to the film's memorable impact. 

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Sonia Braga, Maeve Jinkings, Irandhir Santos, Humberto Carräo, Zoraide Coleto, Carla Ribas, Fernando Teixeira, Buda Lira, Bárbara Colen, Lula Terra, Daniel Porpino, Paula De Renor, Thaia Perez.

Dir Kleber Mendonça Filho, Pro Emilie Lesclaux, Saïd Ben Saïd and Michel Merkt, Screenplay Kleber Mendonça Filho, Ph Pedro Sotero and Fabricio Tadeu, Art Dir Juliano Dornelles and Thales Junqueira, Ed Eduardo Serrano, Costumes Rita Azevedo.

 

Cinemascópio/SBS Productions/Videofilmes/Globo Filmes-Arrow Films.
146 mins. Brazil/France. 2016. Rel: 24 March 2017. Cert. 18.