Aquarius. 2016. Brazil. Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho. In Portuguese; English subtitle. 142 min.
In Aquarius, acclaimed Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho returns to his home city of Recife, the subject of several of his short films and the breakthrough Neighboring Sounds (2012). Sônia Braga delivers a career-defining performance as Dona Clara, a retired, widowed music critic and the hold-out tenant in the ocean-side apartment building that lends the film its name. Flashbacks and a precise, hallowed treatment of the details in Clara’s life—her extensive vinyl collection, a commode with family history, even the cascade of her dark hair—keenly capture the texture of the place; what makes a house a home also makes it worth fighting for. Clara, too, is multifaceted: fiercely independent, proud, sensual, and surrounded by memories but asserting her life in every moment. Yet her escalating tensions with the real estate developers who want to see her gone also play out against the social and racial dynamics of Brazilian society. Ultimately, the character’s warmth and singularity make her a captivating heroine and a paragon of individual resistance whose story culminates in a lively denouement. The film’s tumultuous release in its home country only reinforces the narrative’s relevance to contemporary Brazil. Aquarius will remain in the public imagination for years to come. Courtesy of Vitagraph Films.