Wednesday, October 12, 2016

NYFF Spotlight: Aquarius

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 54th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 30th-October 16th.

Directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho
NYFF Screenings

Most people live in a few places over the course of their lives, moving from one city to another, or even crossing state and international lines as they go through different stages, steps, and careers. Some do stay in the same city or town their entire lives, and later in life, even those who have moved frequently often remain in one place as they get older. It’s not easy to persuade someone who has spent years in the same house or apartment to consider relocating, and such attempts to do so tend to be futile and only provoke further stubbornness.

In “Aquarius,” Clara (Sonia Braga) is first introduced at age thirty, partying in 1980 and celebrating the seventieth birthday of her favorite aunt. Her husband thanks all those in attendance for supporting the family as she has battled cancer the previous year, and the film then jumps ahead to the present day, when Clara, retired after a successful career of writing music, is the sole remaining resident of the famed Aquarius building. The construction company sends smiling emissaries to knock on her door with a colorful brochure about their plans once the final obstacle in their way is removed, which encourages her to stand her ground and defend the home that she wants to continue calling her own.

Clara is interviewed as soon as the film arrives at the present by an intrepid journalist, who asks her, among other things, how she feels about the Internet and music being so readily available. Her answer is boiled down in a headline to “I love MP3s,” but it does represent an adjustment to modernity that many in her field of her age wouldn’t normally make. Clara maintains positive relationships with her adult children and plenty of friendships, and staying in her home is just another element of continuing to live a rich life and experience the world as she desires. She’s a formidable lead character.

Braga is a respected Brazilian actress who appeared in a handful of American films thirty years ago and plays a major role in the new Netflix series “Marvel’s Luke Cage.” Braga, who is hardly wanting for memorable parts, has found a career-topping role in Clara, and she responds with exuberance and commitment, carrying the film with her modest and confident energy. The film runs two hours and twenty-two minutes but remains engaging due to an impressive reliance on its story and its actors to take the film wherever it needs to go, which proves more than worthwhile.


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