Aquarius

This impressive, thoughtful and unhurried Brazilian drama by Kleber Mendonça Filho is arguably most notable for its excellent central performance by Sônia Braga, an actor who has worked on English language projects as diverse as Kiss Of The Spider Woman and The Cosby Show. Braga plays Dona Clara, a retired music critic, cancer survivor, widow and mother, and also the last resident of the titular beachside block of flats in Recife. Her apartment is full of history: it’s here that she beat her disease, raised her kids, shared memories with her husband, and it’s also full of her possessions, including her extensive collection of vinyl, in which every record is seemingly able to reveal a stage in her life or rekindle recollections of otherwise long-forgotten days. Understandably she doesn’t want her smarmy landlord-developer and his son-in-law to raze the building to the ground for some new (presumably high-rise or luxury) construction, and resists their offers as well as their underhand tactics. It’s a film about gentrification, and greed, and there is a central conflict between a plucky underdog woman and a couple of men with a business behind them trying to throw their weight around, but for long periods that seems to be on the back-burner. Aquarius, for the most part, is a reflection on time and (a particular) space, subtly exploring family relationships, individualism and memory, and the story recognises the importance of objects in a time when we are implored to chuck things away and live minimally, as well as questioning the idea that humans should always let go of the past and embrace change. It’s very good. (****½)