Those familiar with Cannes selection of dramas will know it tends to skew toward simple narratives told in a realistic tone with great emotional depth. In this sense, Aquarius is no surprise. Selected to compete in the Palme d’Or at last year’s festival, it’s self-evident to see why the story of an elderly woman refusing to sell her apartment to unscrupulous property developers caught Cannes' eye. Juggling themes of loss, perseverance, age and the emotional weight given to everyday objects, Aquarius easily manages to sweep you up into the life of main character, Clara.
Split into three acts and set in Brazil, the titular apartment block ‘Aquarius’ has sat on the coast since the 1980s where the film begins. Clara (played beautifully by Sonia Braga) is celebrating the birthday of her Aunt with her large extended family. Clara sets out onto the beach with her brother and his girlfriend where she plays “Another one bites the dust”, highlighting her resolve to stay strong in tough times.
While the children make a toast, their much beloved Aunt keeps an eye on a rather plain cupboard. We're quickly told of its importance with flashbacks to her past intimate time spent there with her late-husband (to put it delicately). As the family celebrate they also take a moment to acknowledge the difficult time Clara has had battling breast cancer, which the family hope to have put behind them.
Skipping to the present day, Clara remains in the Aquarius apartment block and her life continues as usual. Only two things break the pace, an interview with a magazine to talk about her music career and a visit from a property developer.
The battle of ‘old vs antique’ is discussed in her interview, sharing her love of music from old vinyls to modern mp3 players, saying as long as she can appreciate music she doesn’t mind the format. Meanwhile the property developers begin to infiltrate the Aquarius apartment blocks, led by the young architect Diego; played by Humberto Carao as slimy, confident and cunning under a polite exterior.
As Diego starts to undermine Clara to achieve his ‘New Aquarius’, a battle of wills begins and Aquarius becomes a more interesting look at the emotional stress Clara endures and the importance of place in our memories.
Sonia Braga is a formidable actress, famous in her native Brazil for a career that spans decades. Her talent is self-evident again here while the wider cast grants us comfortably naturalistic performances too. A languishingly slow film that leads to a triumphant finale, Aquarius is a treat for any fan of the time-tested, well-observed drama where the little guy/girl takes on ‘the man’.