Starring Sonia Braga. In Portuguese, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable
Known as widely for Kiss of the Spider Woman and the new Luke Cage series as for homegrown ’70s hits like Gabriela and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, one of Brazil’s most enduring stars gets the role of a lifetime in Aquarius. This ambitious effort sums up many of the changes Sonia Braga has witnessed, in her career and her country.
Braga plays Clara, a retired music journalist (at least, that’s implied) now settled into a comfortable solitude in a lovely apartment facing a choice stretch of Recife, the capital of Pernambuco. A 60-something widow who has survived cancer with her vital beauty largely intact, she gets daily pleasure from books, LPs (from Mozart to Queen), swimming, and frequent-enough visits with her grown children and small grandkids.
This late-life idyll is interrupted when a local developer (Humberto Carrão), newly returned from “training” in the U.S., starts buying up all the flats in her elegant building. Redolent of the Age of Aquarius, after which it and the movie are named, the building and its sole tenant gradually get worn down by the increasingly dirty tricks played by this ever-smiling hustler. But Clara is resourceful, and she spends as much time going out with her girlfriends and even meeting randy suitors as fighting city hall (and its corrupt offshoots).
Young writer-director Kleber Mendonça Filho covered some of this territory—involving Brazil’s tangled history of racism, class conflict, and real estate—in his brilliant Neighbouring Sounds, which leavened its overstuffed two hours with an air of poetic mystery. At almost 20 minutes longer, Aquarius is even more laden with meaning, and with techniques. Some sections resemble a 1970s paranoid thriller, complete with telescopic zooms, while others reveal intimate family dynamics. The movie is frequently mesmerizing, but there’s a sense that Mendonça (the “Filho” translates best as “Junior”) wants to include everything that transpired in his parents’ lives, and this results in too many dangling plot threads. Fortunately, his heroine isn’t entirely stuck in the past, and the movie keeps moving forward.