Brazil, 2016, 146 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Kleber Mendonca Filho.
In this film, the title, Aquarius, belongs to a building. It is not exactly the age of Aquarius. Rather, this rather long film is a portrait of a woman in her 60s, Clara, a very effective portrait by Brazilian actress, Sonia Braga.
The setting is the city of Recife, shown in opening sequences in black-and-white photos, then opening up to a beachfront and the Aquarius building in 1980. Clara’s family are celebrating the birthday of an aunt and she herself is recovering from cancer surgery. The screenplay is divided into three chapters: Clara’s Hair (which she has lost because of the chemotherapy); Clara’s Love which brings Clara, now in her 60s, into the present, the main part of the film which shows her day-to-day life; the final chapter is called Clara’s Cancer – but not a recurrence, rather a symbol of a fight she has been having with developers.
Clara in 1980 is a genial person, with a loving and devoted husband and three young children. There is a birthday celebration for their Aunt Lucia, one of those very active Brazilian women, socially concerned and who spent some time in jail – in some ways, she serves as a comparison for the later Clara.
In the present day, Clara lives alone, her husband dead for 17 years, but in good contact with her children and grandchildren. She lives alone in Aquarius where she had brought up her family. She is the only one left in the building and the developers are literally knocking on her door, trying to persuade her to move out so that they can demolish the building and rebuild “the New Aquarius Project”. Clara is not for moving.
So, while there is all kind of detail about Clara’s ordinary life, there are memories of her past as a music critic and her producing books and articles, visits with her children, babysitting a grandchild, conversations with quite a number of friends in the surrounding area and swimming and walking along the beach.
The development situation gets rather heated, a young developer, smiling and charm whom she attacks as passive-aggressive, allows a very noisy and rough party to go on in the room above her, bringing in mattresses and then burning them in the courtyard, approaching Clara’s children to try to persuade her to take a substantial financial deal and to move out. The sequence of her meeting her children and the discussions, especially with her daughter taking the aggressive position, are very effective.
The final chapter with Clara’s Cancer is actually a cancer of the woodwork in the Aquarius building, the developers having brought in wood rotten with termites in order to eat away foundations and columns. Just as Clara conquered her cancer in 1980, the end of the film indicates that she is going to conquer this kind of cancer and, definitely, survive.
There is a great attention to detail in film, quite a range of characters, the plot sometimes meandering, but overall a significant portrait of Clara.
1. The title, the tone? The building? Symbol of Clara? The old building, the tradition, the plans for the new project?
2. The city of Recife, the initial photos, black and white, the past? 1980, the building, the interiors, the beaches? The later development of the city, the modern 21st-century city?
3. The musical score, the range of songs, the different periods, the lyrics?
4. The three chapters of the film: Clara’s Hair, Clara’s Love, Clara’s Cancer?
5. 1980, the introduction to Clara, the cars, the group on the beach, the music, the dancing? Clara and her cancer, her surgery? Love for her husband, fostering the children? The gathering for Aunt Lucia’s birthday? The speeches, Lucia’s career, modern, political, – in her own personal flashbacks to her lover? Clara’s husband, 1979, the year with Clara’s illness, his managing? The family singing for their aunt?
6. Clara, 2014, at her home, with Landjane, a companion to Clara, their long friendship, working the house, the issue of the development? Her age, going to the beach, swimming, friendship with the lifeguard, the talks with him? Her brother, his wife, visiting them? Thomas, driving with her, the discussion about Julia? The visit of the businessman, her determination to stay in the house, their contracts? The old man managing his business? The young man, his business course in the United States, smiling, keeping the pressure, her calling him passive-aggressive? The plan under the door, pushing it out, tearing it up? Life around the district, the stories, people at the shops, the young drug dealer? The dancing at home? Landjane’s birthday?
7. The business issues, the three workers, the bringing of the mattresses? The car park and moving the car? The visit to the cemetery? Seeing people emptying graves? Her role as a grandmother, with her children, her gay son and his partner, her daughter and the divorce, Martin and his wife? The discussions about her moving, the issues of money, her daughter having to play the antagonistic role
8. Outside the window, the young people? Her book and the music? The interview for the magazine, its appearance, photo, discussions with the editor, the threats about her brother’s political activity? The party upstairs, the music, the sexual behaviour? The later burning of the mattresses? The effect on herself, the phone call, the man coming for the casual sex, her discussing it later with her friends?
9. Clara‘s daughter and the divorce, bringing her son, Clara walking him around the city in his stroller? Thomas and Julia, the walk along the beach, the explanation of the city and the different parts? The visit to the home, looking at the photo albums, remembering?
10. Clara and her cancer, not her health, the discovery of the termites in the board, to destroy the building, the role of the developers, Clara getting the lawyer, her brother and nephew confronting the builders? Her threats? Going public?
11. An open ending, the portrait of a strong woman, the details of her life, prospects?