Aquarius ★★★★½

Led by a stirring performance by Brazilian luminary Sonia Braga, Aquarius is a modest, riveting portraiture of Brazil’s ever-changing society seen through the lens of a sixty-something woman. Braga plays Clara, a retired music critic, who has to fight for her space against the corrupt real estate developers in the region of Recife. Everything in Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius feels gentle, and grounded mostly because of Braga’s earthy presence. But it’s also firm and sharp in critiquing the underlying, sometimes explicit disparities within the Brazilian society.

Aquarius is long, but justifies its length as the idea of just being with this woman is something to behold. The film does not put Clara on a pedestal, Filho puts humanity in Clara’s overall being. She can be warm and smart, but she can also be stubborn and unkind towards the people around her including her long-time servant. The concrete space that she’s fighting for symbolizes the oppressive socioeconomic, racial divide that debilitates Brazil in general. Somewhere in between, Filho's introspection in his country becomes more trenchant and infuriating. More so, the corruption that there is currently in the country makes Aquarius a timely film for a challenged nation.

Sonia Braga is marvelous in this. How could we keep up in a year with so many great female performances this year? Braga imbues so much mystery, warmth, and sensuality that makes Clara such an electrifying character. The more we get to know this woman, the more surprises Braga present which truly left me wanting more. Aquarius ends on a perfect note. A surprising act of defiance that is worthy of an applause. Aquarius shares the journey of this woman with us wholeheartedly and sincerely. An homage to the women who keeps fighting for what is right even when she’s suffers in the hands of distrusting men.

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