Aquarius ★★★★

”Money isn’t what’s important.”

Clara (Sônia Braga) is a sexagenarian retired music critic who lives in Recife, Boa Viagem Avenue. Through the window sill of her living room she can behold scenery that would leave most in complete awe. Her apartment is situated in a privileged location – right at the tourist epicenter of the city. It’s incredibly close to the beach and Clara takes advantage of the same with the daily walks she takes. She lives in comfort and her own existence, at least a first glance, seems to be rid of any sort of turbulence or trouble.

However, appearances are often deceiving. On one hand we have her personal and emotional life, which is far from being serene. Concerning family relationships we have a near complete absence of contact. She has grown distant from her three children, with two of them living far away and rarely ever reaching to her. Her daughter is the only present figure and for the most part she merely uses Clara as a babysitter. Filling this vacuum, left by her children, is her nephew which she sees as her own son. On a more personal note there’s Clara’s aloofness towards any romantic relationship. She lost one of her breasts to cancer and it seems as if she has never been able to be comfortable in her own skin ever since.

Her inner conflicts are soon matched by a dispute with a building company that desires to buy her apartment. Clara is unwavering in her position: she will not sell the apartment for any amount of money. Those walls are much more than just concrete. They represent a life of struggles and victories; that apartment illustrates who she is and nothing can pay that. Her steadfast posture contrasts with that of Diego (Humberto Carrão, in a strong supporting role) who appears quite confident that sooner or later she’ll eventually sell or leave her apartment. Clara’s clashes with the building company offer the film its most gripping moments; occasions where dialogue and acting alone make our hearts race. The finale is particularly riveting as the tension that had been boiling for two hours and twenty minutes suddenly bursts. It’s an explosion that's cathartic for the audience and Clara as well – making Aquarius' resolution be immensely satisfying.

Aquarius’ plotline is unequivocally haphazard which may lead some audiences away. I can understand how some could find this a journey that’s discouraging to follow seeing that Mendonças’ tale is seemingly aimless at times. Throughout a significant portion of the film we are not even sure if there’s an antagonist to this tale. We are merely left observing this woman’s life. The cineaste deviates from straightforward storytelling and takes advantage of the film’s lengthy runtime; letting the actions and narrative tissues slowly bind only to later on form a full image whose breadth is much larger than what we’d anticipated.

Post Scriptum:

Sônia Braga, and her wondrous black hair that unmistakably represents her victory over cancer, is absolute fire. It’s a shame that this tremendous enactment didn’t gain any sort of awards recognition – and that only happens because the Academy is mainly biased towards foreign language features. It’s a remarkable performance; a career highlight.

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