Kleber Mendonca Filho’s festival hit Aquarius is an indelible feature that lingers, and scrutinises, on time lost, and time left. An intimate character study at its core, audiences are treated to a candid exploration of this woman’s life, vitally unspectacular, through her eyes we watch the world go by, with the ongoing conflict between Clara and a housing company a catalyst to study her background, tinged with nostalgia and regret, all while we sit back and admire her resilience and quiet indignation.
Sonia Braga plays Clara, a 65-year-old widow and retired music critic, born into affluent surroundings, who now finds herself as the lone resident in the Aquarius building, her home, and one that the council are hoping to knock down. Requiring her consent, she’s unwilling to oblige, with the very thought of having to leave triggering a host of memories, as she reflects across her life, while identifying her own role in modern society, with the ever evolving landscape of the music industry working as something of a reminder that the world around her is always changing.
One of the main reasons why Aquarius is such an engaging, emotionally charged affair is down to the bond we form with Clara, as a character we get to know so greatly, empathetic, endeared and enlightened by her tale. But this gloriously understated narrative requires an accomplished storyteller, and Filho’s pacing and structure, and the way we weave between the modern day and flashbacks, with inanimate objects so often a means of triggering memories, may be disjointed, but it remains accessible, ensuring we’re consistently absorbed. It helps matters no end that Braga turns in a remarkable display as the film’s lead, and the way she depicts her fury against the company trying to drive her out of her home is through an impassioned, yet somewhat muted display, internalised, subtle and yet never not effective.
Filho’s use of music is noteworthy too, for when a track plays, it’s the only thing that matters in the scene, so much louder than any dialogue, with the bass seemingly amplified, as we get a flavour for the passion that Clara built her career upon. A passion she still harbours, albeit one sidetracked as she vies to sort out her living arrangements. The Aquarius building makes for an apt title too, as her life feels like a goldfish bowl, everybody involved, watching, when all she seeks is peace. A simplistic tale, told in a creative fashion – and yet despite the risks taken by the filmmaker, he never once compromises on the emotionality at hand.
Aquarius is released on March 24th