Review: Aquarius (2016)

Brazil’s 2nd #MDQFest entry houses a powerful female performance.

by Benjamín Harguindey

Continuing our coverage of the 31st Mar del Plata International Film Festival – specifically the International Competition – today we review another Brazilian movie (following Marco Dutra’s The Silent Sky), Aquarius by Kleber Mendonça Filho, which premiered earlier this year at the 69th Cannes Film Festival (causing some controversy while at it by publically denouncing the impeachment of then-president Dilma Rouseff).

Aquarius isn’t exactly a political movie, but it does make a poignant statement about the will of the people versus big-business bullying. If nothing else, it is essentially the tale of a strong-willed person who finally chooses where to make her stand against injustice.

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Sonia Braga is Clara, a sixty-something widower, mother of three and last resident of the “Aquarius” apartment building by the sunny Recife beach. A young contractor has managed to buy everyone out but Clara, for the apartment contains a lifetime’s worth of memories. An early scene set some 30 years prior effectively establishes the importance of objects as memory catalysts. Thereon Clara seems to have spent her life amassing books, photographs and vinyl records for their totemic value, with the apartment itself being the crownpiece.

In any other scenario this would probably make Clara into a materialistic hoarder, but her philosophy is more contemplative than it is obsessive and she seems to be spurred into action out of sheer principle: the material world contains memories, and memories aren’t worth any amount of money. And so she stalwartly heads into a war of attrition with the contractor, who sets to invade the privacy and comfort of her home with detestable passive-aggression.

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At times the film might be a bit self-complacent – feel-good scenes of people eating, dancing and partying go on for too long, enjoyable as it is to watch an older female character live a rich, socially-fulfilling life unchallenged by, say, a romantic subplot – but Braga delivers a powerful, obstinate performance and more or less single-handedly sells the whole movie.

Since Clara is more than well-off there isn’t much tension in her potential eviction, but the fact that Braga can sell the inner conflict of a woman on a quixotic quest to carry on her legacy and the legacy of those before her by continually living in a luxury apartment is a credit to the actress, who’s nicely positioned for the Best Actress award.


BenjaBenjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).

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