Aquarius is an elegantly shot character-driven drama about a strong-willed 65-year-old woman in a psychological fight against the coldhearted owners of her apartment building, who have managed to drive out everybody but her in a wholehearted attempt to make it into a holiday resort. The film spans over elements from Clara’s (Sônia Braga) colourful life, periodically interjected with her attempts to thwart the owner’s grandson’s (Humberto Carrão) passive aggressive tactics.
In their climactic confrontation, she attacks him and all his corporate fervour in a powerful speech wherein she celebrates the vibrancy and history of her generations-old home and denounces the utter lack of character displayed by the construction firm that is rapidly taking over the building. This is one of the more intense scenes depicting Clara’s frustrating struggle that veers to the surreal when the company starts organising orgies, leaving excrement on the stairs and ultimately resorts to an extreme act of passive violence.
The main intrigue is diluted with episodes from Clara’s private life, often lacking depth or meaning other than painting a realistic portrait of the leading lady’s multifaceted persona. Long shots of tense but loving family get-togethers drag endlessly along, interspersed with the occasional gratuitous sex scene that more often than not has no real relevance to Clara. Every so often, however, the director, Kleber Mendonça Filho, grabs back the viewers’ attention with a particularly lovely bit of writing accompanied by expert acting, like the group of youthful middle-aged lady friends gossiping on their night out and Clara’s frequent, pleasant chats with the lifeguard on the beach by her apartment.
Filho’s camera work is visually stunning with bold colours, striking geometry and cleverly arranged set designs. It captures the look of an old 70s film and the feature’s varied soundtrack spans decades of Western and Brazilian music.
The story’s attraction tends to wax and wane throughout its runtime of two and a half hours. Although Braga’s character is unapologetically genuine and brilliantly acted, she is hardly a lovable protagonist. If the picture were about 45 minutes shorter it would be more widely accessible – the slowness seems almost to be filler at times – but it contains a healthy political message of refusing to subject to corruption; Aquarius is an excellent character study movie, and it certainly delivers on the aesthetic front.
Aquarius is released nationwide on 24th March 2017.
Watch the trailer for Aquarius here: