Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Brazilian drama Aquarius, starring Sonia Braga in the lead role as Clara, is a feisty human story of a woman who refuses to give up on her home and her rights to be able to enjoy it to the fullest. Filho’s story chronicles Clara living the life of a semi-retired and accomplished woman, who continues to live life on her own terms despite her perceived feminine weakness by patriarchal men around her and her sexuality.
Clara lives in an apartment building where all the tenants and proprietors have gradually been bought out by a real estate company that wishes to build condominiums in place of this old establishment. While the neighbours have all caved, Clara refuses to budge and does not wish to engage in any negotiations with the company. The representatives show up at her doorstep, attempt friendly banter, even offer brochures to ‘inform’ her of the proposal they have for her, but Clara wishes to have nothing to do with all this.
Clara for her part lives a tranquil life; she’s an accomplished writer, with kids and grandkids who come and spend time with her. The film does great service to the idea of a woman in her late 50s, early 60s, who can enjoy life in every way. To Filho’s credit, he even shows Clara with a mastectomy on one of her breasts, where later in the film she guides the man she is having sex with to the other breast to play with. The subtlety with which Clara owns every aspect of who she is, is the core strength of the film.
When intrusions by the company reps fail, they send emissaries through Clara’s children, who begin working on her to agree to the offer. They are arguing that the money on the table is way above the market price for a similar apartment and would ensure that she finds something comfortable and more suited to her age. This is taken further when some hired men from the company come by looking to threaten Clara, asking why an older woman chooses to live ‘alone’ in a building like that. No matter the pressure, Clara perseveres and does not give up.
Aquarius is the name the company wishes to give the new building when it’s built. Clara stands between them and the dream to further turn profit. The son of the company’s boss, a recent business graduate from the United States, gives Clara an ultimatum, one that will end in him prevailing and getting what he wants.
The film is undramatic for its content and subtly presents a quiet yet firm stance of a woman’s battle against corporate greed and encroachment. I loved how throughout the narrative we get to enjoy all aspects of Clara’s life: her home, her relationship with her house-help, her night out with friends, her moments of fun and frolic. The film created quite a stir when it came out in Brazil, putting into the spotlight the problem with the real estate mafia in the country.
Regardless of whether Clara wins this battle against the Company and gets to keep her apartment, the film’s genius is that it gives us a strong female protagonist – one who doesn’t cave in the company of men, who are wolves, constantly attempting to eat her alive. Braga carries the film superbly, with not a moment of detachment or fatigue.