AQUARIUS, Brazil, 2016. Starring Sonia Braga.Directed by Kleber Mendonca Filho. 146 minutes. Rated R (High impact sexualised nudity).

In this film, the title, Aquarius, belongs to a building. It is not exactly the age of Aquarius. Rather, this rather long film is a portrait of a woman in her 60s, Clara, a very effective portrait by Brazilian actress, Sonia Braga.

The setting is the city of Recife, shown in opening sequences in black-and-white photos, then opening up to a beachfront and the Aquarius building in 1980. Clara’s family are celebrating the birthday of an aunt and she herself is recovering from cancer surgery. The screenplay is divided into three chapters: Clara’s Hair (which she has lost because of the chemotherapy); Clara’s Love which brings Clara, now in her 60s, into the present, the main part of the film which shows her day-to-day life; the final chapter is called Clara’s Cancer – but not a recurrence, rather a symbol of a fight she has been having with developers.

Clara in 1980 is a genial person, with a loving and devoted husband and three young children. There is a birthday celebration for their Aunt Lucia, one of those very active Brazilian women, socially concerned and who spent some time in jail – in some ways, she serves as a comparison for the later Clara.

In the present day, Clara lives alone, her husband dead for 17 years, but in good contact with her children and grandchildren. She lives alone in Aquarius where she had brought up her family. She is the only one left in the building and the developers are literally knocking on her door, trying to persuade her to move out so that they can demolish the building and rebuild “the New Aquarius Project”. Clara is not for moving.

So, while there is all kind of detail about Clara’s ordinary life, there are memories of her past as a music critic and her producing books and articles, visits with her children, babysitting a grandchild, conversations with quite a number of friends in the surrounding area and swimming and walking along the beach.

The development situation gets rather heated, a young developer, smiling and charm whom she attacks as passive-aggressive, allows a very noisy and rough party to go on in the room above her, bringing in mattresses and then burning them in the courtyard, approaching Clara’s children to try to persuade her to take a substantial financial deal and to move out. The sequence of her meeting her children and the discussions, especially with her daughter taking the aggressive position, are very effective.

The final chapter with Clara’s Cancer is actually a cancer of the woodwork in the Aquarius building, the developers having brought in wood rotten with termites in order to eat away foundations and columns. Just as Clara conquered her cancer in 1980, the end of the film indicates that she is going to conquer this kind of cancer and, definitely, survive.

There is a great attention to detail in film, quite a range of characters, the plot sometimes meandering, but overall a significant portrait of Clara.

Rialto.   Released February 23rd.

Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

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