Coming straight from competing for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s follow-up film to the highly acclaimed Neighbouring Sounds comes with corresponding hype and pressure. AQUARIUS is the antithesis of a “big” film, instead focusing on ageing music critic Dona Clara (Sonia Braga), the last holdout in a Brazilian beachside apartment block slated for development. Despite every other flat in her block vacated for the developers, Clara refuses to leave, despite the wishes and concerns of her family and those who stand to benefit from the sales.
There’s early promising scenes set in the late 1970s, kicking off the film’s musical obsession with Queen. The film is about the end of an era, establishing Clara’s rebellious fire early by showing her admiration of a beloved bohemian aunt. Filho juxtaposes an increasingly out of place Clara with the changes in the area, making a very definite statement about what he feels is being lost as a divided Brazil continues to lose aspects of its cultural history. Yet much of the film also drifts aimlessly in and out of various elements of family and sex after seventy, a showcase for the strong performance of a nuanced Braga. Her friendship with lifeguard Roberval (Irandhir Santos) is one of the understated highlights of the film. It’s just a shame that there is so little subtlety to the rest of the screenplay, one where the developers throw orgies, burn mattresses, file legal threats, and in a final “twist” pollute the building to drive out the “little guy.”
2016 | Brazil, France | DIR: Kleber Mendonça Filho | WRITERS: Kleber Mendonça Filho | CAST: Sonia Braga, Maeve Jinkings, Irandhir Santos | DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto Distribution (AUS) | RUNNING TIME: 144 minutes | RATING: ★★★ (6/10)