Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho
Starring Sonia Braga, Maeve Jinkings, Irandhir Santos, Humberto Carrão, Zoraide Coleto and Fernando Teixeira
In UK Cinemas March 24th, 2017
Pre-order on Amazon
by Joanna Orland
The story of Aquarius is sadly a familiar one in today’s society. A fiercely independent widow who survived a debilitating breast cancer in her youth, Clara (Sonia Braga) is now in her 60’s and facing the battle of her life as she fights against developers to stay in her apartment – the home where she raised her now adult family, a home that she’s owned and lived in for the greater part of her life.
A character and societal study, the film is a slow-burning examination of what it means to age in a world where corporations are more important than people. Having retired, Clara is well-to-do and lives an elegantly quiet lifestyle in her apartment in a complex known as the “Aquarius”, in the seaside town of Recife, Brazil. She raised her 3 children in this home, and spent her years with her now deceased husband here. It is her home and she intends to spend the rest of her days there. A property company has bought all of the apartments in the building, with the exception of Clara’s, with the intention of demolishing it for a new modern luxury complex. Clara refuses to sell even though all of her neighbours have abandoned her. The building company begin to torment her, trying to intimidate her out of her house. In addition to the property company harassment, Clara is being pressured from her children and former neighbours to sell – a move which would see their own profits increase.
Aquarius is not just a story about the social politics of Brazil, but any major developed city worldwide as old buildings and homes are being demolished in favour of new modern complexes – which can be sold for much more money than their predecessors were worth. The corruption and bullying which Clara encounters is a cynical, yet believable, look behind-the-scenes at such an infrastructure and the harm it causes on a personal human level.
The apartment block and Clara’s personal possessions that fill her home are very humanized in Aquarius. Possessions are not merely material goods, but they trigger memories and feelings for the characters in the film which is demonstrated beautifully through flashbacks – Aunt Lucia gazes at a credenza and remembers her and her lover using it in the heat of passion, Clara has her record collection with each physical record reminding her of a story from the past, her home reminds her of the family she raised there and is the last remaining link she has to her deceased husband. The fact that the property company wants to demolish a building is given much more meaning when this sentiment is attached to the inanimate objects in life.
While the entire story of Aquarius is depressingly acerbic, the ending leaves a gaping hole. Clara stands up for herself throughout the film, refusing to be bullied out of her home. She has constantly called out the property company for their passive aggression in trying to remove her from her home, and the end is no different – the story merely stops. The non-ending reaffirms Aquarius as a character and social study rather than a plot-driven movie, yet still one with a lot of emotional impact simmering underneath its slow-paced facade.