31st March – 6th April 2017, DCA
I went to see Aquarius feeling, at the last minute, a twinge of trepidation. Merely because I, like the protagonist, am a woman named Clara who writes, has been accused of stubbornness, and could definitely see myself being embroiled in some standoff with a construction company in my later years. I thought this might be a grim glimpse into a lonely future, to a hackneyed female caricature so stale and reproduced in film that I would walk away feeling tired, or irritated. But instead I found certainty, confidence, and vitality, laced with a beautiful offset of the absurd and morbid which quietly and inevitably creeps into all our lives.
The pace of the film, and the spectrum of time it encompasses, make for a deep but never tiresome insight at what makes a life. Possessing the subtle style of a fading coda chrome photograph, scenes from the past are transporting and captivating. Near the beginning of the film is a family party in a Brazilian beachfront apartment in 1980, saturated with genuine comfort, belonging, vitality and joy. Here we are introduced to the main artery of the film – strong, progressive, unapologetic and colourful women connected deeply through love and loyalty (though never in a saccharine rom-com manner.) We catch glimpses of strength and sexual vibrancy, which bridges generations; throughout the widowed Clara’s battle with the shady nepotistic construction company urging her to sell her family home steeped in memory and pride, the women of her life support her. There is a subtle, genuine and unspoken beauty in the relationships of this film.
Many films and, to be fair, societies paint female sexuality – especially that of an older women – as seedy, shameful, or desperate. Oftentimes the private sexual life of the female protagonist is the lynchpin of a dramatic plot; discovery is unthinkable; scandal is suicide, shame paramount to death. But in Aquarius, love, intimacy and sexuality is lifeblood. The healing wounds of its loss are still pink and tender, yet cherished. I was left pondering the vitality of the older people in this film, who are not relegated to care-homes, or dreary pubs that smell of smoke and sound like slurred never-ending stories. This rare, honest representation is part of the unwavering hope in Aquarius.
Clara – played wonderfully by Sônia Braga – refuses to lose control and ownership of her own life, be it by her age, her children, the men who desire her, or those who see her home as merely an obstacle to the building of a construction empire. The sumptuous private space of her apartment within the fast emptying “ghost building”, becomes a sort of metaphor for the rich memories she lives amongst. Another historically typical caricature of the woman is one who is mad, hysterical. Clara defies this reduction. Her erratic behaviour and eccentricity are rebellious, proud and even punk. And, being a music critic, Clara ensures the film has a fantastic and infectious soundtrack, with songs that punctuate emotion and energy perfectly.
An unexpected dimension in the film – unsurprisingly given I am not familiar with Kleber Mendonça’s work – was its political and racial undertones, littered throughout interactions, comments and tensions in the film. Subtly intertwined with the fabric of the story, which at times errs on surreal, the fascinating and still evolving tiers of Brazilian society are peeled back for us to see. Ultimately, this film became more than I expected – aesthetically, personally, and philosophically. As one of Clara’s drunken bombastic friends advises, “don’t put off what you can do right now” – go and see this film.