Sonia Braga is electric as the beautiful and fiercely independent retiree, Clara. Having suffered a battle with Cancer in the 1980’s, the now widowed Clara lives alone in a Recife apartment complex.
Clara has a very strong connection to this apartment: her favourite aunt owned it before her, it's where Clara and her late husband raised their children. It's this bond that proves to be a thorn in the side of a development company and its heir in waiting, Diego. They have purchased all the other units and want to turn her building, the Aquarius, into luxury beachside apartments. Unluckily for them, Clara has no intention of selling, now or ever.
Watching the trailer for Aquarius would have you think it was about something incredibly sinister - an evil development company, violently hounding Clara out of her home. The actual movie couldn’t be further from that. This movie is simply about Clara. It’s a day in the life of a complex, warm and intelligent woman. It's also a seldom seen depiction of middle-class Brazilian life, so different from your tough-guy movies like City of God or Tropa de Elite. Director, Kleber Mendonca Filho, is far more concerned with the loneliness that comes with ageing than any sort of corporate subterfuge, which is a good thing.
This is a movie about what physical objects mean to us and how they evoke memories. Clara, being a retired music journalist, places a great importance on vinyl. Not because it is a superior medium but because of the stories that can be created by going to a record store and leaving with something. It is also about love, sex and sensuality, how your desire doesn’t necessarily diminish with age.
Aquarius is solidly built: the cast is great, the direction and cinematography are beautifully naturalistic; sun just pours through the lens in a hazy afternoon kind-of way. Sonia Braga is absolutely exceptional, she has so much personality and exudes a love and care towards her family and friend’s that appears so genuine. She is also full of fire and is unafraid to challenge someone to express what she believes in.
The movie does take its time, though. At 2hrs and 26 minutes, it runs long. Not a lot really happens either. Rather than being a hard day on the streets of Rio, it's a sunny afternoon on the beaches of Recife, so don’t expect any shocking revelations and jaw-dropping plot twists. The end of the movie was a bit of a damp squib and more of a kicking-off point for more drama, rather than the conclusion of it.
Braga’s stand-out performance is the draw here, watching her take command of the screen and demand attention is what you pay your money for. The plot is merely a framework through which the issues of ageing, nostalgia and sexuality are explored and not a path to story revelations. This movie is good, not great but worth a watch if you have almost two-and-a-half hours to kill.