In the Brazilian character-driven drama Aquarius, Sonia Braga plays Clara, the last owner of a beachfront condo who hasn’t sold out to a developer who owns the rest of the condos. The conflict is between Clara, who refuses to sell and those her want her to. But Aquarius is really about Clara, and it takes its time setting up her character; it’s 26 minutes before we even see the developers. We must understand her to understand her motivation – and her will.
Aquarius moves through scenes with a lifeguard at the beach, with girlfriends at club, at family parties, not to move the plot, but to invest in revealing aspects of Clara’s character. Having conquered cancer, lost her husband, raised children and built an artistic career, Clara has some mileage on her – enough to know what she wants and needs. Having earned the authority to live her life as she pleases, Clara is a wilful free spirit. And, as everyone finds out, she is absolutely fearless.
It’s a career-capping performance for Sonia Braga, still luminous 40 years after Donna Flor and Her Two Husbands. Mid movie, there’s a scene when Clara’s adult children try to have an awkward conversation about the financial benefits of selling the apartment. She doesn’t make it easy for them, and their long-submerged feelings about their father and their mother surface. With piercing observations and cold-eyed disappointment, Clara is as masterful over her children as when they were infants. It’s hard to imagine a better movie scene this year. Braga is brilliant.
The young Brazilian television actor Humberto Carrão is exceptional as Clara’s ever smiling foil Diego, whose youth and punctilious civility mask a capacity to engage in any tactic, even very dirty tricks.
I viewed Aquarius at the Mill Valley Film Festival.
Aquarius is critical of the political status quo, and the Brazilian government’s refusal to submit it for the Best Foreign Language Picture Oscar has created a controversy detailed in this New York Times article.