Aquarius ★★★★

Evocative, with a seemingly simple premise, Aquarius is a film that slowly invites us into a world and reveals the complexities within. Sonia Braga's performance was compelling, in the way that she inhabited the character of Clara. A few other things I liked: 
-The opening sequence on the beach, setting up Clara in the context of her family and environment, and also the themes of memory and flashback. Right after this is Aunt Lucia's party, which touches on many aspects of Clara herself (the before and after) as well as the strong sense of place. It is an intimate scene, taking place in her home, one filled with multigenerational family and friends. Aunt Lucia herself is an inspiration--beautiful with her lustrous hair, lithe frame, rebellious streak, and imagination, she is a "firecracker"  in her 70s. She is contrasted with Clara, who, with her '80s abandon, cropped hair, and slightly darker frame, has her youth threatened by cancer. But Clara is a survivor, sharing similar values of family ties as well as a passion for life. 
- Clara's cancer is a powerful theme in the film. The first time we see Clara in the present day, we are struck by her long black hair. It is a sign of her survival, but also, literally of growth as well as beauty. She has aged well and kept the things that matter to her, like her interest in music. The apartment is a testament to her survival, both as a patient and as a woman. It holds her records and family albums, her dreams and fears. It is also a legacy for her children and grandchildren: here's where she helps raise her grandson. It is in the privacy of her home that we have a glimpse of her body post mastectomy. It is a battle scar that not everyone understands--while some are even repelled--but Clara does not let it deter her from seeking love or experiencing the sensual. She swims and dances, opens her self (and her home) to new encounters, including sexual. When she says she refuses to leave her apartment until her death, it takes on more meaning. Having been near death in the past, Clara is willing to fight for it with her life. In fact, part 3 is called "Clara's cancer", when the property company's dealings come to light and Clara fights back. Like the first time, we are hopeful she will win.
-Time. While it looked like the film was long, the 2+ hours helped to make us more familiar with Clara. The close ups and quiet moments (like her sleeping on the hammock) provide an intimacy and depth to the character as well as the story at the heart of it. In dream-like tones, the filming style as well as narrative help to flesh out Clara's position, both its fragility and strength. She is not simply weak because of her age or gender, and neither is she a saint. She too is haunted by the past while trying to move forward, as the dream with the maid & jewels illustrates. The domestic is just as important as the political; the struggles are universal.