Kleber Mendonça Filho
Release Year:
Kleber Mendonça Filho
Sonia Braga
Screening Date:
  • 26 Sep 2017
  • Categories:

    Clara (Sonia Braga in a career-defining role) is the last resident of the Aquarius, a 1940's building which has been acquired by a developer. She refuses to leave, struggling not only against the company but with her past, family and future. A slice of modern Brazilian life.

    What's this?
    F-Rated Bronze

    Film Notes

    If you thought Sonia Braga had the role of a lifetime in Héctor Babenco’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, wait until you get a load of Dona Clara. The heroine of this tremendous second film from Brazil’s Kleber Mendonça Filho fits a lifetime, and more, into one role. Clara is the last-resident-standing of a picturesquely crumbling low-rise beachside block – the Aquarius of the title – in the coastal city of Recife. And much as a local property developer might hope otherwise, she’s going nowhere. The company wants to buy her out, bulldoze the place and throw up a skyscraper in its stead, but the 65-year-old swats away their ploys with the kind of leonine hauteur we mortals could only hope to rehearse post hoc in the bathroom mirror. She’s a breast cancer and chemotherapy survivor, and her long black hair, which often hangs down her back in a Modigliani sweep, stands as glossy proof of her fearsome capacity for perseverance. She’s also a retired music critic, and the walls of her apartment are lined with books and records – a lifetime’s work and pleasure shored up around her like an extra layer of wolf-proof bricks. Close up, Mendonça’s film is about Clara’s ongoing war of wills with the developers – and particularly the owner’s son Diego (Humberto Carrão), newly returned from Business College in America with a slippery smile and an industrial-strength brass neck. (Any similarities to Brazil’s own interminable real-life corruption scandals are, you’d assume, entirely intentional.) But take a few steps back and it becomes a broad-canvas celebration of neighbourhood life – just like Mendonça’s 2012 debut, Neighbouring Sounds, it’s endlessly fascinated by the interlocking tick of its characters’ lives. Clara may be the motor that keeps the film’s intricate story turning, but every last cogwheel proves to be indispensable, from Clara’s long-serving housekeeper Ladjane (Zoraide Coleto) to her grown-up children and favourite nephew Tomas (Pedro Queiroz), the lifeguard (Irandhir Santos) who watches her with a mix of protectiveness and reverence while she takes her morning dip – even the hunky gigolo she summons to help her escape the pressures of the present …Step back further still and things get metaphysical. Clara’s home isn’t just where her heart is: her home and heart aren’t easily divisible, and her memories are tucked away in her belongings just as tangibly as the old newspaper clipping she pulls from a faded LP sleeve... Forget Faulkner’s doom-laden maxim about the past never being dead, or even past. In Aquarius, that’s cause for celebration. Mendonça’s filmmaking has an effortless visual and narrative flow that makes it ideal for capturing the everyday magic that memory can work. Dreams feel realer than reality – Clara’s night-time imaginings are cut with a rhythm that sets your skin prickling – while the virtuoso ending slams truth and metaphor together with the force of a motorway pile-up.
    Robbie Collin, The Telegraph, 23 March 2017.
    The premise of this second feature from Kleber Mendonça Filho, the Brazilian writer-director of 'Neighboring Sounds', sounds like a recipe for sentimentality and hollow triumphalism. When Clara, a 65-year-old widow and retired music critic, refuses to sell the beloved beach apartment she’s lived in for most of her life, she finds herself under attack not only from a powerful property company but from former friends; even members of her own family question her judgment. Happily, Mendonça Filho avoids the pitfalls of feel-good cinema, creating a drama that’s credible, complex and very satisfying. Key to his successful sidestepping of cliché is the casting of Sonia Braga, whose evident strength, intelligence and vitality are essential to the character of the embattled but stubborn Clara. Despite having been stricken by breast cancer back in the 1980s (the setting for a brief prologue that reveals her attachment to the same apartment) and lost her husband, she has raised a family, made a name for herself as a writer and retained her enthusiasm for music in particular and life in general…
    Geoff Andrew, Time Out, May 17 2016.


    What you thought about Aquarius

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    10 (16%) 30 (47%) 15 (23%) 8 (13%) 1 (2%)
    Total Number of Responses: 64
    Film Score (0-5): 3.63

    Collated Response Comments

    133 came to the screening of Aquarius and 48% of you provided a response, 11(8%) by email the following day. There is not enough room here to show all of your comments and particularly the considered e mail responses. However you will find all of your comments on the website. When collating the response slips at the end of the evening I was disappointed to find so few, but not surprised…it did have a very abrupt ending. The following e mail provides a fair critique, some parts of which are echoed in other comments. “I usually write my comments after the viewing but was somewhat confused by last night’s film so have allowed an evening’s contemplation and just as well as some of the subtleties become more obvious. For what seems a very straightforward leftist political tract it’s more ambivalent to its cast than it might at first appear. While the superb, patrician figure of Dona Clara, whose measured stride provides the pace of the film; might be morally in the right, she seems to take her privileged background (maids, nannies) for granted (is there guilt in her dream sequences?) and her extended family, daughter in particular, appear lazy at best. Nice to see cancer has some use if only as an emblem of the creeping, termite like erosion of public morals and standards, also as the ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ element of Clara's character. Great on the tangle of family relationships in an unfamiliar autumnal Brazil that, again, matches Clara’s mood. A curiously abrupt conclusion. In retrospect, much better than it seemed at the time”. A commentator on the night said that it was “a pretty good film, but no better than the average standard expected from GFS. A decent multi layered parable, contrasting rich/poor, young/old, memories/fantasies, corrupt/honest, enlivened by the occasional erotic interlude. Overlong but entertaining”. Many of you commented on the quality of the acting and told us that “Sonia Braga gave a stellar performance as Clara capturing the nuanced relationships with her children and the lifeguards, her favouritism to her nephew, and her warm but slightly condescending attitude to her maids, past and present”. One member was moved to tell us that the film had “a brilliant script with credit going both to the original scriptwriter and the translator. The main character’s dialogue was particularly crisp, pithy and as effective in English translation as I am sure it must have been in Portuguese”. Others said that it was “Outstanding, exquisite but too long”. “An important testimony to the power of one in a time of ever increasing corporate power. One of the best lead performances I have ever seen”. “What a performance by Sonia Braga! I have seen it before – just as good second time around. A bit slow in parts”. “An extraordinary film. Excellent photography and one felt so close to the characters – Dona Clara was riveting. Nice to see the termites winning! Enjoyed the music”. “Wonderful observation, too long though”. “Great performance, too many longueurs”. “Wow what an ending”. “Despite its length, this film was very engrossing and ultimately hopeful. Sonia Braga was great – beautiful and mesmerising”. “Well-acted, but very slow - an half and half too long”. “Apart from the corruption, I liked the playout of family politics”. “Overall rather too long but so well crafted. Covering both the depth and breadth of this extended family in an amazing way. Excellent use of “less rather than more” in observation”. “A lot of strong independent women”. “Probably a good commentary on bad practises – great acting but a bit slow”. “Turgid, boring, wonderful actress!” “Two and a half hours too long. Didn’t warm to Clara despite her predicament. Poor and unresolved ending. We never saw her dying her hair – saw everything else!” “A bit slow & laboured. A good portrayal of family politics”. “Interesting only to see something of modern Brazilian life. Uninteresting plot. Awful camera work, poor production, indifferent ending. Score for principal actress” “far too long. Good acting in places but overall unconvincing”. “Far too long, mostly boring. Seemed to be going nowhere for most of the time and the ending was terrible. Waste of an evening! Only redeeming thing was Dona Clara!”. “Slow…like watching paint dry – and it did”. “Worst feature was the inability to read the subtitles – off screen before I had the time to work them out”. “Thanks for the film yesterday. We didn't leave comments slip as it was getting a bit late and we didn't want to go with the immediate mutual summary - which was "a bit boring" - sorry. Clearly, it's not a "bad film" - so I'd have to go with "Average" as the rating. There is some excellent acting and camerawork, but also some thin characters and having Diego and his grandfather as proxies for system-wide corruption doesn't really come off...e.g. at various points, the script seems to require Diego to "look enigmatic" rather than say anything back to Clara and in my view he does not have the range of expression required. (Harsh compare but see for example Emma Thompson in Love Actually when she finds the CD instead of the necklace...) In contrast, the lifeguard was very convincing in his genuine concern for the main character and how this relationship evolved throughout, and other supporting characters were well drawn and played - but the ratio of story development to incidental scenes was just too low for me, and the "ending" didn't feel like one”. “I thought the film was rather too long and I got bit bored in the middle – would have been nice to have had a small interval to walk and/or replenish the wine glass”. “The film seemed to jump around quite a lot, including bits which appeared to be somewhat irrelevant. The ending was an extremely disappointing let down – one felt short-changed after so long, although it is difficult to see how else it could have ended quickly?!”The acting from all the cast was excellent. On the whole, I enjoyed it. I would say “average”. “I loved this film -a tick in the excellent box I felt as though I knew Clara and I certainly cared about her. Her strength of character reminded me of 'Erin Brokovich' with Julia Roberts”. “Thanks for organising the Film Society - it’s a wonderful thing to have in Godalming. My score was “Good” - only losing out to “Excellent” because I felt it was over-long. I enjoyed the story and the way it wove all the threads together - generations of a family, belongings, experiences etc. I liked the way they didn’t hold back on the sex scenes - more graphic than I’ve seen before in a general release film - they gave the story an authenticity. My only criticism was that it was too long - it could have done with 30 minutes editing out”. “I was disappointed with this film. Having read the review it is almost as if I watched a different film. Had it been cut? How were we supposed to know she was a music critic? How were we to know she was 65? How were we to know that they wanted to bulldoze the block (rather than a refurb)? Yes, it was possible to work out all these things but it was an unnecessary distraction to have to do this”. “There were elements of the film that were very disjointed and didn't appear to have any significance, for example the birthday aunt's sexual experiences; again, you could speculate and imagine - nothing wrong with subtle referencing but in this instance it didn't add anything to the film for me”. “The acting was brilliant, the sense of place was perfect but overall – average”. “I would rate this film good with a super life-enhancing central performance. However, I did find it a little long and self-indulgent in parts and some of the plot-making was confusing, at least to me”. “At the time it felt rather slow and about 30 mins too long but some wonderful performances and is a film we are likely to remember for a long time”.

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