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NYFF: Sonia Braga in "Aquarius"

Manuel here reporting from the New York Film Festival and reminding you that Sonia Braga is a goddess of cinema 

Aquarius is the name of a building in Recife where Dona Clara (a resplendent Sonia Braga) has made her life. The apartment she lives in, which is littered with books and old LPs (she was once a famed music journalist), once belonged to her aunt. Indeed, Kleber Mendonça Filho first introduces us to the Aquarius and to the apartment back when Clara was a young woman who’d recently battled breast cancer, a key detail her aunt brings up in the midst of a birthday celebration. In this lively opening sequence, the camera pauses on an old furniture piece before giving us a glimpse of even livelier days of the older woman celebrating her birthday surrounded by family. We see a memory flash before us of a heated sexual encounter, her lingering gaze having triggered an old but cherished memory...

The moment is fleeting but its effect is felt throughout the rest of the film: as we catch up with Clara later in life when a young smug suit is intent on getting her to sell so that he and his father can tear down the Aquarius and build a new luxury building, the materiality of memory one of the many things Clara looks to hold on to as she finds herself under siege.

While trying to forget the lucrative deal in front of her, we see Dona Clara swimming, drinking, dancing, all the while finding value in the various objects and spaces that now make up her life. It’s no surprise that when the young suit begins fighting dirty (renting out the apartment right above her for a loud orgy in hopes of making Clara feel even more unwelcome in the now empty building around her, for example), she fights back with a dignity that’s staggering. She plays her records loudly to drown out the noise; she invites a young male escort to help her pass the time; she sets out to paint the building's facade to keep it clean.

In many ways, Clara is the ultimate Sonia Braga character, sensuously rooted in transgression, scoffing in the face of calls to accept her fate and let capitalism and the chauvinism it depends on walk all over her. Connecting Clara to a world that bridges past and present, cuts across class distinctions, and finds the radicalism within the mundane, Kleber Mendonça Filho crafts a film that’s political in the way all truly personal stories aspire to be. That it’s as funny and sexy, as thoughtful and thought-provoking as it is is a testament to the its luminous leading lady, who’s just working on another level in this; her fiery outrage all the more searing for its chilly delivery, her sexy joie de vivre all the more infectious for the way she casually deploys it. Braga is just as great delivering a withering polite nod as she is off-handedly tossing a flirtatious giggle. That she gets to do both (and then some!) in this timely social allegory is just one more reason we should be thankful we have Aquarius in our lives.


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Reader Comments (8)

Great review os a great movie. I suggest only one correction. Her name is only Clara. Dona (whithout the ñ) is the equivalent of miss in portuguese.

October 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPedro

Lovely movie and terrific review.

One thing I particularly loved was how rooted all the characters felt. They were so vividly drawn outside of Clara and it made the world feel so lived in.

October 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

The framing and editing style of this movie, not to mention the structuring, were so idiosyncratic I felt like I was in a cinema for the first time in my life and trying to figure out how this 'cinema' thing works. I''m surprised this element doesn't get more coverage.
For what it's worth, I saw (and loved) Neighboring Sounds. Even that didn't prepare me for this. I feel like Mendonca Filho's next film will be utterly minndblowing.

October 10, 2016 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I saw this one. It's loooose. The editing, the camera, everything works in its own pace. Love that the movie doesn't hurry up and let us admire and enjoy Braga's company. Neighboring Sounds is a better movie, but this one has a heart.

October 10, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I believe Sonia Braga may score a Best Actress nomination for this. And if Isabelle Hubbert scores one for Elle - and the dozens of excellent performances she has given in many films , we might see TWO foreign language Best Actress nominees in 2017. Pity neither will win cos Viola Davis has it sewn up for Fences.

October 11, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

Braga is wonderful, but Huppert belongs to another league. It's abravise, unsentimental and extremely complicated work. The only performance better than Huppert's this year was given by Sandra Huller in Toni Erdmann.

October 11, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Sonia Braga in an "Oscar-worthy" performance!
"Aquarius" is a gift for Cinephiles.

October 11, 2016 | Unregistered Commentergabriel

rewatched it this monday, tremendous movie, with such humanity! sonia <3

October 12, 2016 | Unregistered Commentermarcelo

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