Aquarius

A magnificent performance from Brazil’s Sonia Braga powers this clever and affecting film about a woman refusing to budge from her apartment when property developers move in on her block.

One-time bombshell Braga plays the part of Clara, a well-known former music journalist, who choses to remain the only person in her pleasant but fading deco residence, the Aquarius, which has a wonderful sea-front view in the city of Recife.

Developers offer her money and, when she refuses to budge, start filling the vacant flats around her with orgies, parties, porn shoots and even termites.

Clara draws on all her resourcefulness, contacts, steel and charm to fight the developers and address corruption. Braga is imperious throughout, creating a portrait of a woman that is sexy, proud, vulnerable and fierce.

Directed by Kleber Mendonca Filho, the film should easily have been Brazil’s nomination for an Oscar pick but politics got in its way – the film, which played at Cannes last year, can be read as a metaphor for the former President Dilma Roussaeif, who was overthrown in a what her supporters see as a coup d’etat. The Aquarius team made statements on the Cannes red carpet and the film – and Braga in particular – was punished for it.

I think it’s a fabulous piece of work, both in the creation of Dona Clara, and in its ability to convey, through her, an area, an era, a building and a way of life. It’s a film about property and about identity that works in many subtle ways, and includes some beautiful music – for record fans, the film’s worth watching just to stare at Clara’s vinyl collection.

But it is Braga, who starred in The Kiss of the Spiderwoman back in 1985 and was famous for dating, among others, Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood, who dominates practically every scene in what is probably the performance of her life. Certainly, it feels like her whole life is in here, from youthful promise to lost opportunities and regret to a late, glorious flourish.

Here she is, giving me a wonderfully open interview at Cannes last year.

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