A meditation on poverty and corruption in Recife, Brazil

Kleber Mendonça Filho directs Aquarius like a filmed novel. Absolutely nothing is abbreviated. The camera follows actors walking on a beach, then pulls up and away from them to take in the nearby streets, the neighborhood at large, and then the entire city of Recife, Brazil (from a god’s-eye view). In the opening sequence, Filho moves the lens loosely yet fluidly through a party as the crowd dances, eats, and laughs. He’s conversant with the early films of Robert Altman. The clothes and apartments look real, lived in. Aquarius is the name of Clara’s (Sonia Braga) midcentury building, which faces the ocean she swims in every day. An upstairs neighbor wants to buy her flat to knock the building down, but for Clara, the last holdout, her memories and her way of life are inextricably bound up with it: It’s where she’s raised three children, survived breast cancer, and mourned the loss of her husband. The battle for this property comes to represent a rapidly modernizing Brazil, but Filho is just as interested in Clara’s unconscious desires as he is in fighting against corrupt developers, cutting in unfiltered and potent sexual imagery. In one scene, he turns Clara into a Lynchian voyeur, but what she truly prizes in the night, though, are her vinyl LPs and the reassuring susurrus of the ocean waves.

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