AQUARIUS (Brazil | France/18/146mins)
Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho. Starring Sonia Braga, Maeve Jinkings, Irandhir Santos, Humberto Carrão, Zoraide Coleto
THE PLOT: Clara (Sonia Braga) is the last resident of the ‘Aquarius’ apartment building, a space that developers want to tear down to make way for something new. Clara vows never to move out of her apartment until she makes her final journey, which leads to her engaging in a cold war with the developers, and Clara looking back over her life and the memories she has made in her home.
THE VERDICT: It would be easy for Clara to be drawn as an older woman who is doddery and stubbornly refusing to move because she is weak, but writer/director Kleber Mendonça Filho carefully creates Clara’s world, making her a strong and defiant character who refuses to be forgotten.
Sonia Braga gives the performance of her career as the powerful and strong yet vulnerable Clara, and we see the film through her eyes. Braga never allows Clara to bow to pressure and bullying, but blends this carefully with a woman who is facing not only the loss of her home, but also the idea of being forgotten as a person, since Braga makes it clear that this is about more than just the place where Clara keeps her stuff. The rest of the cast features Maeve Jinkings, Irandhir Santos, Humberto Carrão and Carla Ribas.
Kleber Mendonça Filho’s screenplay carefully blends the past and the present throughout the film, while including a hint of the future. The script carefully makes Clara a strong woman who is not without her insecurities and vulnerabilities, which makes her a totally rounded character that it is easy for the audience to relate to. The dialogue is strong, and although there are times when the film feels as though it is rambling and overly long, but when everything comes together in the end, it is emotional and engaging.
As director, Kleber Mendonça Filho paces the film well enough; although it is overly long at 142 minutes the audience stays engaged for the running time. Filho has also coaxed wonderful performances from her cast, especially Sonia Braga, and created a feel of home, as well as nostalgia and a view to the future throughout the film.
In all, ‘Aquarius’ shows Sonia Braga off to be the powerful actress she is; Braga easily carries the film and makes the leading character one for the audiences to root for, as we are able to see her wonderful unique qualities through the script and direction. Of there were to be a complaint, it would be at 142 minutes, ‘Aquarius’ often feels overly long.
RATING: 4.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    In only his second feature, Brazilian director Kleber Mendonca Filho shows the kind of confidence that most directors only find after several films. Aquarius is a singular portrait of a woman has been through the fire – and now faces a difficult life situation.

    65-year-old Clara (Sonia Braga) lives in the titular 1940s apartment block on the coastal city of Recife, Brazil. Over decades, her apartment has become a defining part of her personality – an evocative poster for Barry Lyndon here and a huge collection of vinyl records there. She’s a survivor too, having battled breast cancer. She knows what it means to face adversity. She’ll need that courage, as she’s the last resident of Aquarius. A construction company has bought the property with the plan of demolition to make way for a new development. Manager Diego (Humberto Carrao) approaches Clara with a friendly monetary offer to leave her apartment. She turns it down straight away. Over the coming weeks, friction will result as Clara refuses to leave her rightful home. Relations deteriorate, with Diego taunting Clara with noisy parties above her and some questionable behaviour. She taunts him back, labelling him as passive-aggressive. Clara’s quality of life soon becomes difficult, with even her grown-up children questioning her decision to live in an otherwise empty apartment block…

    Aquarius is a long film – almost twice as long as another independent film out this week, eerie horror The Eyes Of My Mother. A straightforward drama like Aquarius should be 30 – 40 minutes shorter, but the end result is that the length of the film becomes a benefit rather than a hindrance. Filho indulges himself in the right kind of way here, basking in the brilliance of the lead character he wrote and the acclaimed, veteran actress he chose to portray her. Braga is simply hypnotic here, anchoring her character in a life well lived – and who won’t back down when faced with conflict. If there’s ever an English-language remake, then Charlotte Rampling springs to mind straight away. What Braga does though is that she quietly grabs audience sympathies while making us genuinely root for Clara, going up against a property developer with an air for distasteful, intimidating behaviour. This is a battle of wills that is more complex than initially appears.

    While it’s a singular story, Filho cleverly frames Clara through the perspective of other characters too, such as her selfish daughter. She becomes less of a stubborn old lady clinging to the rose-tinted past and more of a fiery lady who wants to hold on to a part of herself that an external force is attempting to bribe or take away. This manifests itself in some tense conversations with apparent nice guy Diego, who misinterprets her honest directness for inconvenient stubbornness. The story wraps up fairly quickly – a definite full stop rather than an epilogue. But it feels appropriate given the character and the situations that have escalated over the course of the film. With a powerful performance from Braga, sterling direction from Filho and a relatable story with a strong resonance, Aquarius rewards patience. ****