Being a film critic, I feel I get spoiled in special ways. Yes, I get to see most big Hollywood films before the general public does and I get a look at all the award-seeking movies in advance but where it all rises above is when I get a look at some of the foreign films that don’t get as much word of mouth until they have already been a Golden Globe winner or are up for an Oscar. The new Brazilian film Aquarius is one that fits in this category, one that has already been sent in as the official selection of Brazil and has definitely ruffled some feathers due to the director’s actions in local politics. My question is does this have any bearing on the actual movie itself?
The film stars Sonia Braga as Clara, an aging widow living out her retirement with a beautiful life in the rearview. She is a former music critic, renowned for her views, and raised her children all under the same roof at the Aquarius, a two-story apartment building built in the 40s in a rich neighborhood of Recife, Brazil. All of the other tenants have since moved on except Clara, who doesn’t see any reason to uproot her life and memories. This goes against the wishes of a local developer who wants to tear down the complex to build a brand new ritzy high-rise in its place. It’s one woman against an establishment, as most people around Clara, including her own family, beg her to give up the fight.
Braga is phenomenal in this film, as it is entirely built around and focused on her. Clara is, from the get-go, depicted as a strong opinionated woman who has more backbone than the majority of men and women. Having lived an incredible career, raised her kids, buried her husband and survived cancer, Clara’s bravery comes off to the antagonist of this film as just being stubborn. The representative of the company, a young man named Diego, constantly tries to reason with Clara, saying that she’ll have a place in the new building, to be named the “new” Aquarius, he is blind to the fact that he’s being insensitive and condescending but even members of the audience may, at times, feel that she is in the wrong, right up until the final act of the film.
Aquarius has a beautiful style to it and director Kleber Mendonça Filho is able to almost put you right inside the psyche of his main character. In her retirement, Clara often reminisces about the happy memories she has and her apartment is the smelling salts that bring these forth. Filho makes sure this is the main focus but sometimes gets lost in some imagery or scenes that don’t further this piece of the narrative, and at times, feels like a slightly self-indulgent meandering. This drives the runtime to be almost two and a half hours, a lengthy venture for the final character story that is told. It didn’t ruin the film for me but I think it all could have been a bit tighter. 4/5