Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho
Country: Brazil / France
With only two feature films, Brazilian writer-director Kleber Mendonça Filho has gained a certain cult status, becoming a powerful voice in the alternative world cinema and a keen observer of today’s Brazil.
If “Neighboring Sounds” (2012) had stricken me with its irreverent tones, the recent “Aquarius”, a character-driven drama, completely enthralled me for nearly two hours and a half.
At the time the film was exhibited at Cannes Film Festival, the film’s cast organized a pacific demonstration where they showed discontentment about the impeachment of Brazil’s president Dilma Roussef and the disgraceful political situation lived in the country.
The story is centered on Clara, a retired upper-class music writer and former journalist who refuses to sell her beautifully renewed apartment to a greedy construction company that is eagerly planning to make some more millions by replacing the decayed Aquarius building.
The narrative, divided into three chapters, begins in 1980 Recife, where we find a young shorthaired Clara (Barbara Colen really looks like Elis Regina) fairly recovered from a traumatic breast cancer and celebrating the anniversary of her aunt Lucia (Thaia Perez), a former political activist, in the company of her family – husband, three children, and brother.
Many years after, we find Clara (Sonia Braga), now a 65-year-old widow, visibly annoyed in the course of an interview for a local journal. The frivolous questions were not focused on her new book but rather if she could cope with digital music as well as her old vinyl collection. She’s living exactly in the same apartment she lived in the 80’s, cherishing every family memory and determined not to open hand of her patrimony despite the venomous persistence of Diego (Humberto Carrão), the unscrupulous new manager of the construction company.
There’s a spellbinding eeriness associated with the ghostly apartment building since Clara, now the only dweller, keeps tracing lots of noises and suspicious activities, especially in the apartments above hers.
Activities may include cleaning and security inspections but also unimaginable things like orgies and religious gatherings.
It seems everyone is against her decision of staying in the building. Even her own daughter, who’s divorced and faces a delicate financial situation, doesn’t understand why she doesn’t accept the large sum of money that has been offered to her and move into a more secure apartment.
The visionary director also takes the time to show us how Clara manages to live by herself, brilliantly exposing her sexual life, uncanny premonitory dreams, and social life in the company of her friends, some of them gossip adepts.
Sonia Braga’s tour-de-force performance, likely the best of her long career, bolsters a film that functions as a stirring contemporary eye-opener with a precise focal point.
I’m thinking of a comparable case in NYC: the famous, now-degrading Chelsea Hotel where people are still living in and nobody can throw them away.
Supported by a set of international producers, including Walter Salles (“Central Station”, “The Motorcycle Diaries”) as an executive, Mendonça Filho holds an unflinching filmmaking style reinforced by a haunting narrative fluency.
A bow to his new masterwork!