Cannes salutes age of Aquarius

Another fine film in the Competition came from Brazil, and from the seaside city of Recife more precisely. Aquarius is the title of the film and of the apartment block where a vital local celebrity lives, a former music journalist named Clara, played quite magnificently by Sonia Braga.

A widow, she’s now the only resident in the block, stridently choosing to remain in her beloved flat despite offers from greedily keen property developers to get her out – and despite the desires of her grown-up children to get their hands on some inheritance money, and find their mother a more appropriate yet probably less characterful abode.

But Dona Clara will have none of it. She likes it here, just on the beach where she still goes for her swims and where she’s surrounded by memories and her collection of vinyl albums.

She’s a super cool maverick, this one, enjoying spliffs and her music, even getting a gigolo round for sex. Braga is extraordinary to watch, proud, beautiful, sexy, angry.

The developers start to use strong-arm tactics, allowing squatters in, throwing loud parties – which Clara simply combats by playing her own music even louder: Fat Bottomed Girls by Queen never sounded so good (or any good, come to think of it, til now).

The film, by Kleber Mendonca Filho, connects music and sounds to lives and families, setting Clara in her environment. There’s a very subtle method here of connecting it all together (as in the formal exercise in his debut doc Neighbouring Sounds, also set in Recife) and looking at Brazilian society through the ways it is both united and trenchantly divided, its castes, its servants, rich beach and poor beach, its nepotism and corruption and fierce protectionism.

It’s a complicated, delicate tapestry of sights and sounds, this film, with a wonderful scene at a party where Gilberto Gil’s Toda Menina Baiana gets the whole room going.

One of my absolute favourite screen moments of a fine vintage at Cannes.

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