The magnificent Sônia Braga stars in the new film by acclaimed Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho (Neighboring Sounds), about a retired music critic battling a corrupt real-estate firm as she struggles to hold on to her apartment.
Brazilian writer-director Kleber Mendonça Filho, in the follow-up to his extraordinary 2013 feature debut Neighboring Sounds, continues to mine concerns about the alienating effects of urban development in Recife. Yet where that first film drew its insights from a broad range of characters uneasily cohabiting in a modern high-rise, Aquarius focuses on an individual: Clara (Sônia Braga, magnificent), a retired music critic and the sole tenant of an older apartment block being bought up by ruthless condo developers.
After surviving a bout of cancer and the loss of her beloved husband, Clara is hardly about to let herself be bullied by the “generous” offers or insidious charms of Diego (Humberto Carrão), the American-educated scion of a powerful local real-estate firm. Diego tries everything in his power to force Clara out of her home, including hosting a noisy orgy in the suite above Clara’s — one that leaves a putrid mess in its wake. But when Clara starts pushing back, secrets are revealed, exposing the festering corruption that infects so much big business in Brazil.
Aquarius is a harsh study of classism, nepotism, and the lack of corporate accountability, but it is also about the meaningfulness of places and things: the history and memories contained in an apartment, a piece of furniture, or an LP purchased years ago in a used record store. Mendonça Filho has crafted a suspenseful drama about our relationship to the physical world. In doing so, he has given the inimitable Braga one of the finest roles of her storied career — a career she will discuss in detail in this year’s In Conversation With… programme.