Monday, October 24, 2016

Study of a woman

Aquarius, opening Friday at the Birmingham 8 and Emagine Novi, and directed by Brazil’s Kleber Mendonça Filho, is billed as one woman’s stand against a big developer who wants to kick her out of her home. It’s that, certainly, but the film plays out more as a meditation on a single (widow) 60-ish Baby Boomer coming to terms with her life. Sonia Braga, the famous Brazilian-American actress, is the star.  The setting is the Brazilian seaside city of Recife. Dona Clara (Braga) raised her family in this home, a nice spacious now Art Deco-infused apartment. The film opens with a birthday party there in 1980. And then flash forwards to the present day, where Clara, now 66 and a retired journalist, lives alone in what may be a fulfilling or less than fulfilling life. The movie is broken into three chapters and mainly shows Clara going about her days – walking to the beach, at dances with girlfriends, visiting with her children. It’s almost as if the proverbial elephant in the room – a construction company that wants to redevelop the site and is stymied by her refusal to move when all the other tenants or owners have been bought out – doesn’t exist. But it’s there in the background, as company officials occasionally maker her offers (“over market price”), and with the increasingly rundown look of the premises. But why should Clara leave? It’s her longtime home, after all, and she’s got a great ocean view. And when one of her children asks if she’s “stressed” by all the pressure she replies, no, “I’m pissed off.” The stereotypes build of her being a “crazy old lady” when, of course, she is quite sane. It’s the others who worry unnecessarily or don’t understand the desire to cling to familiarity, nostalgia and comfort. As I said, the film works better more as a depiction of a character, an older woman who loves music – and insists on listening to her 40-year-old LPs rather than digital downloads – hanging out with friends, and who is seemingly ambivalent about the other gender and romance. In one scene, a man picks her up at a dance but as quickly drops her when she tells him she’s had breast surgery. In another, she phones up a young buck to come over expressly for sex. Meanwhile, the conflict between Clara and the construction company comes to a boil near the very end of the film when Clara finally confronts the developer, Diego (Humberto Carrão), who has been increasingly trying, in not so subtle ways, to force her to leave, including using the building for sex orgies and then introducing nests of termites. She denounces him for his “business” background and being part of an elite lacking “manners” and whose character “is money.” Well, I guess no such film is complete without a ritual denunciation of capitalism. From this scene, it’s only a few minutes to the film’s abrupt and dramatic ending, to which the audience might respond by saying, “good for you!,” and/or, in an exasperated way, “okay!” 

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