Sonia Braga is at her sensational best in a compelling slow-burn drama from Brazil's Kleber Mendonça Filho
The Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho follows his outstanding debut Neighbouring Sounds with a second film based in Recife, a coastal city in the northeast of his country, again revolving around an obsession with property.
In his first film, Filho presented the class, racial and economic tensions within a well-off neighbourhood as a microcosm of a national malaise, as well as the fuel for an electrically charged thriller. Social critique also exists in Aquarius, though here a woman's battle against developers acts, predominantly, as the foundation of a singular character study.
Clara (Sonia Braga) is a 65-year-old widow and retired music critic, now living alone in her life-long home, a modestly scaled but lovely apartment in the Aquarius, a low-rise block on an upmarket beach. A local celebrity, she's intelligent, attractive and proud, with a forceful and somewhat haughty personality.
So insularly attached is she to her home that Clara has barely registered the fact that every one of the other apartments in the building is empty, snapped up by a construction company that wants to develop a fashionable high-rise – and is now upping the pressure on her to sell. She has no intention, whatsoever, of leaving. Despite the smiling demeanour of the firm's young boss, dirty tricks ensue to force the widow out.
While Neighbouring Sounds felt flawless, Aquarius has its imperfections, not least a long, cheesy and dispensable prologue. But while not as suspenseful as the earlier film, it's still an effective, slow-burn drama, with moments of humour, tension and mysteriousness as the lone woman's situation – isolated in her deteriorating building – becomes loaded with threat. And at its heart is a rare, rounded, fiery portrait of a middle-aged woman, reflecting on her life, played with sensational flair and depth by one of Brazil's enduring legends.
Limited release from Fri 24 Mar.