Directed by Kleber Mendonca Filho.
Starring Sonia Braga, Humberto Carrao, Zoraide Coleto, Irandhir Santos, and Maeve Jinkings.
Retired music critic Clara is a survivor. She’s come through breast cancer and the death of her husband, and now she faces the prospect of her much-loved home being taken away from her when a property company wants to redevelop the site. But she has no plans to move.
Whatever you do, don’t pigeon hole Aquarius as a grey market movie. True, the central character is over the age of 50 but you’d never see her in the likes of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or any film made with mature audiences in mind. This is no soft-focussed view of an older person. Like Bette Davis said, “old age isn’t for cissies.”
And Clara (Sonia Braga) is certainly no cissie. In her mid-60s, retired and widowed, she’s sharply intelligent, articulate and determined to the point of being bloody minded. She’s also survived breast cancer in the 1980s, something of an achievement as treatments for the disease at that time were nothing like what they are now. All of which makes her a formidable opponent for the property company that wants to buy her apartment. She’s the last remaining resident in her block, the Aquarius of the title, refusing to move out of what has been her home for years, one that is steeped in memories. When she won’t be swayed, the company employs methods to make living in the block unpleasant and potentially unsafe.
While Clara herself is fascinating, painting a portrait of an older woman wasn’t director Kleber Mendonca Filho’s main purpose. This is a film about memory and how objects become infused with significance and value for their owners. There’s a wooden chest in the apartment, one that belonged originally to Clara’s legendary aunt, Lucia, but long after her death it’s still there, almost representing her and the camera keeps returning to it. And, while Clara explains in an interview for a newspaper feature that she likes all kinds of media, including today’s technology, her extensive collection of vinyl is full of tangible memories that you simply can’t get from an MP3.
Sonia Braga is staggeringly good as Clara, in what is both the part and the performance of a lifetime. Her character’s complexity, stubbornness and spirit all come together to make a fascinating woman, one whose relationships are never easy – especially when it comes to her own daughter – but are always rich in emotion and depth of feeling. She never holds back, almost spitting out the phrase “passive aggressive” in one of her confrontations with the seemingly charming Diego (Humberto Carrao), the front man for the property developers.
Regardless of how old you are, Aquarius is a deeply satisfying film. With a beautifully crafted character study at its core, it explores family life with all its sensitivities, solitude and memory all at the same time and the result is an understated but completely absorbing experience. One that makes memories in its own right.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★