Kleber Mendonça Filho returns to the north-eastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco to vent his anger at the redevelopment of one of its coastal towns. His condemnation comes in the form of an intimate personal history of one of its residents, the matriarch Clara – addressed as Dona Clara – ever-steely in the face of societal regeneration and social degeneration.
The film picks up in balmy ’80s Recife, when Clara is recovering from a recent mastectomy. This, alongside the film’s other representations of crumbling infrastructure by means of embodiment metaphors, feels a bit wrong. Nonetheless, the energy Sônia Braga commits to her role maintains the pace of a film that, being on the longer side of two-and-a-half hours, would otherwise drag. A favourite scene is one in which the redevelopers arrange a late-night porn shoot in the flat above her. More inspired than irritated, Clara drinks a really large glass of wine, turns up her music and arranges a companion for a steamy night of her own.
Sometimes the visual imagery works, such as when Clara goes swimming in shark-infested water only to be met by the property redevelopers later that day, and sometimes it feels a little bizarre – like when eviction is illustrated during a scene in which two men dig corpses from their graves. Mendonça Filho’s allusions and indirectness have the best intentions, but the vehicle is most effective when the belligerent Braga takes centre-stage.
Aquarius is a middling effort let down by some unresolved metaphors, but redeemed by Sônia Braga’s verve. The long history of a person’s attachment to a place is articulated nicely, but the dragging second half lets the spirit of balmy ’80s Brazil fade, in contradiction with the film’s intention.
CAST: Sônia Braga, Maeve Jinking, Irandhir Santos
DIRECTOR: Kleber Mendonça Filho
WRITER: Kleber Mendonça Filho
SYNOPSIS: A retired music critic is confronted by property developers threatening to end the long history of her seafront apartment in Recife, north-east Brazil.