BRAZILIAN DIRECTOR Kleber Mendonça Filho’s gorgeous Aquarius centers on Clara (Sônia Braga), a 65-year-old retired music critic, breast cancer survivor, and wealthy widow who refuses to sell her seaside apartment in an otherwise empty two-story called the Aquarius. Whether she’s dozing in an opulent fringed hammock, flirting with the handsome young lifeguard at the beach across the street, or swimming in Brazil’s sparkling turquoise waters, Clara moves through her daily routine with formidable elegance.
That is, until the building’s owner and his grandson reinvigorate their often-uncouth efforts to shake Clara loose like dust from an old carpet and finally vacate the property to make way for a new high-rise. These men speak of the Aquarius in the past tense and address Clara as if she’s a stubborn ghost clinging to its lonely hallways, even as she endures their loud orgies and shit-smeared stairwells. But in many ways, they’re right—she haunts the old building, blasting the same Queen songs she sang along to in 1980, slipping between the past and the present with unsettling ease.
Clara carefully protects and maintains her quarters in the Aquarius like a museum, filled with catalytic objects that reanimate her past, and she lashes out with bristling steeliness at the developers and her own family’s attempts to extract her from this hollow dominion. She can be bitterly cold, particularly to her hired help, but in some moments displays what seems like feverishly genuine warmth—as when she tenderly sings “Happy Birthday” to her friend and housekeeper Ladjane (Zoraide Coleto).
Filho’s latest can also be viewed as a metaphor for the current political strife in Brazil, which played out at the film’s premiere, when actors held signs bearing messages like “Brazil is not a democracy anymore.” But Clara’s magnetism is what drives Aquarius—though it’s sometimes hard to sympathize with her crusade to remain in the empty building, her brazenness and inner strength are addictive to watch.