Review: Sonia Braga drives full-bodied ‘Aquarius’
The Brazilian film “Aquarius” is completely, almost brazenly, built around a performance by Sonia Braga. It pays off. Full of sensuality, defiance, vulnerability and ferocity, Braga moves between the mundane and the menacing with such command that she simply sweeps the viewer away.
Braga plays Clara. When we first meet Clara, in 1980, she’s a vivacious, short-haired mother (played by Barbara Colen), celebrating the birthday of a favorite aunt in the aunt’s well-appointed beachside apartment. We learn that Clara has just suffered some health problems, but don’t know what they are.
Things quickly flash forward to the present when Braga’s Clara is 65 years old, a widow, and living in that same apartment. We soon find out that health scare was a run-in with breast cancer that left Clara scarred.
A retired music journalist, she walks across the street every day to take a dip in the ocean, no matter how dangerous the tides, then comes back and rinses off outside her apartment.
Her world is peaceful, if sometimes empty, but there is one conflict hanging over her: The rest of the apartments in her building have been bought by a developer who wants to raze the complex and erect a tower of condos. The builder wants Clara out, but she won’t sell.
Written and directed by Kleber Mendonca Filho, the film is about the escalating war between Clara and the developer, but it’s also about Clara’s everyday life. She goes out dancing with friends, then a potentially amorous connection goes sour. She travels to the poor side of town to celebrate the birthday of her housekeeper, a woman whose only son was killed a year earlier.
She talks with a favorite grandson and his girlfriend, she flirts with a lifeguard, she argues with her grown daughter, she cares for that daughter’s son. All while the developer is subtly and not-so-subtly trying to drive her out of her cherished apartment, out of her life.
From the moment Braga appears on screen, the camera rarely leaves her. This isn’t a movie about a situation; it’s a movie about a fully formed, red-blooded character dealing with a situation while also dealing with everything else.
Clara does indeed deal — sometimes wistfully, sometimes forcefully, always with passion — and the result is something more than just a story. It’s a life.
Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.
Running time: 142 minutes