Aquarius review: a nuanced portrait of a badass lady

Kleber Mendonça Filho’s dazzling drama is a sensual and subtle - and brilliantly doubles as a political allegory

Film Title: AQUARIUS

Director: Kleber Mendonça Filho

Starring: Sônia Braga, Humberto Carrão, Irandhir Santos, Zoraide Coleto

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 148 min

Thu, Mar 23, 2017, 13:33

   

At 60, retired music critic Clara (Sônia Braga) is a badass who can turn heads and rock out to Queen better than anyone else in her picturesque seaside Brazilian town. Between morning swims, flirtations with local lifeguard Roberval (Irandhir Santos) and rowdy evenings with the girls, the widowed and well-heeled Clara sashays gracefully through the apartment where she raised her children, surrounded by several decades worth of books and vinyl.

She is now the sole resident in the tasteful beach-side building, despite the patronising, lupine advances of Diego (Humberto Carrão), the son of the property vulture who wants to tear down and redevelop the block. Her children push her to take the offer, but Clara is not for turning.

A battle of wills and dirty tricks ensues. But the indomitable Clara proves more than capable of outfoxing the competition, in every sense.

Neighbouring Sounds director Kleber Mendonça Filho’s dazzling new film opens with a series of monochrome postcards, and a group of twentysomethings driving along the beach, nodding along to Another One Bites the Dust, a track that has been newly-dropped by Queen, before we used that term.

A still-young Clara attends the 70th birthday party of her aunt Lucia, a once trail-blazing feminist, who gazes lovingly toward a cabinet and pictures the sexual relations she once enjoyed there.

At first, this Proustian rush seems rather tangential in a film that is almost entirely set when Clara is a sexagenarian. Yet this prologue, like Clara’s determination to stay put, suggests that objects can be more than things, and residences are not merely places to eat and sleep.

Even beyond her four walls, we are poignantly aware of the life that Clara has built. This is a film characterised by tender moments shared with family and friends: check out the boisterous rooftop party with Clara’s recently bereaved housekeeper, or how she fondly watches her nephew canoodling with his girlfriend.

Hollywood never knew what do with Sônia Braga, who bounced from her Golden Globe-nominated performance in Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985) into a series of TV cameos and such unlovely movies as The Milagro Beanfield War and From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter and a turn as Samantha’s girlfriend in the HBO series Sex and the City. It should not be surprising to note that Mendonça Filho has cast her in the most sensual role of her career; yet it is rare to see any woman – let alone one of retirement age with a mastectomy – ooze such carnality.

A night out with Clara and her pals demolishes and atones for every lazy randy granny joke you have not been amused by. This clever, nuanced drama doubles as a political allegory concerning Brazilian corruption. But it would matter, regardless. A dawning, as the similarly-titled song has it.