Aquarius Screen 88 of 36 reviews

Aquarius

2016

Aquarius Poster
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    Film Comment: Michael Koresky
    January 03, 2017 | January/February 2017 Issue (p. 49)

    Within this simple scenario, Mendonça and the titanic Sonia Braga gradually sculpt an image of an entire life, inside and out, and while speaking specifically to contemporary Brazilian politics they also happen to touch upon nearly every issue that became a talking point of the 2016 U.S. election—entrenched racial and class divides, gender inequality, corporate greed. Aquarius is gripping exhilarating, and exquisitely rendered, and its message was loud and clear even before it resonated anew.

  • A film about the most vital weapon in a radical’s arsenal: historical memory. It is precisely Mendonça’s ability to articulate the Then with the Now that rapacious neoconservatism demands. So whatever you do, don’t claim continuity, don’t observe an ongoing cycle of oppression. This is a film about the struggle over an edifice of the past. Preserve it, or knock it down?

  • In cherished dreams, flashbacks, friendships and music, the film takes up arms with her, but avers sentiment and refuses to give her a neat ending.

  • Mendonca Filho's cinema, at least on the basis of two films, seems to be concerned with clinging to a place (a city, a neighbourhood, a block of flats) surrounded by threats, both real and imagined - and this rich, consistently intelligent film is a series of interactions as our heroine clings to her home, clings to the past, clings to life in the midst of assorted deaths.

  • Clara recognizes the spreading rot of corruption even when her children and colleagues do not. She stubbornly stands her ground, and in turn becomes one of the great modern symbols of human resistance against political apathy. Braga gives the character an indestructible sense of self, showcasing a range of emotions that defy easy categorization.

  • The film’s effectiveness depends to a considerable extent upon the riveting central performance by Sonia Braga, best known to English-speaking audiences from her lead role in Dona Flore and Her Two Husbands and Kiss of the Spider Woman. A cancer survivor (as demonstrated by Braga when she bares an apparently real mastectomy scar), Clara commands complete sympathy as she fearlessly stands up to her devious persecutors.

  • Some might well accuse this stubbornly singular woman [Clara] of living in the past, but to watch “Aquarius” is to see her surrendering again and again to the bliss of the present moment — never more so than in a final scene of thrilling, annihilating ferocity. Another one bites the dust, indeed.

  • The film that takes place in and around the apartment building is a strange brew of class divisions, sex on the beach, and physical media that you'll want to keep downing, especially with Braga tending bar — her performance is exactly the kind of late-career showcase you might wish all your favorite underutilized actors would receive. She anchors almost every scene across a 142-minute runtime that can't hope to contain her immense talent.

  • It takes at least two data points to begin building the picture of an auteur — and viewing Aquarius in light of Mendonça Filho’s previous film (and debut feature) Neighboring Sounds (2012) is very illuminating. Taken together, both movies reveal “big” themes that clearly carry urgency for the director: the way urban space is threatened, surveilled, invaded — and how class dynamics play out in a city (in this case his hometown of Recife).

  • Throughout this gorgeous, erotic, seemingly intuitively staged film, Mendonça Filho merges two distinct tonalities: inviting, empathetic romanticism and subtly submerged criticality that leaves the slightest copper aftertaste of bitterness.

  • The movie makes clear [Mendonça Filho's] admiration of Braga. Though his style tends toward artificial-feeling zooms, floating steadicam shots, and disjunctive edits that emphasize detail over coherent space, for most of this film, he cannot seem to look away from his actress. And why should he? There’s a productive tension in this interplay, between a filmmaker who naturally craves waft and drift, and actor giving a performance commanding enough to make sure he doesn’t wander too far.

  • With Aquarius, Mendonca does not rush further into experimental filmmaking; in fact, he takes things down a few notches. The movie is more of a beautifully constructed and finely acted character study.

  • Kleber Mendonça Filho, whose strikingly inventive debut Neighbouring Sounds brought him to attention as a brilliant new talent, again calls out the entitled behaviour of the Brazilian powerful with searing honesty. He uses his sophisticated ear for music and sound to create a deeply moving yet wry tribute to the resistance of small islands of human integrity.

  • Unembellished yet jovial, Aquarius is deep down a celebration of life.... Although reminiscent of social realist movies by way of its premise, Aquarius draws on the color palette and mood of 1970s American cinema, the vibrant and lascivious films of Robert Altman and Brian De Palma, which the cinephile director grew up watching. But most memorable of all is the ravishing Braga’s magnetic and unflinching performance.

  • After the more stringent stylings and sociopolitical matrix of his previous feature Neighboring Sounds, Mendonça moves elegantly through this heroine’s family history while letting Braga’s performance drive the film. The Brazilian star’s deep-seated air of pride and conversational manner allow us to inhabit the surroundings right alongside her and feel her resisting and finally confronting the drama that the world wants to thrust upon her.

  • Without giving much away about the film’s satisfying final moments, viewers may never look at termites the same away again. This might be read as a sneaky joke from this film critic-turned-filmmaker on Manny Farber’s notion of termite art vs. white elephant art, particularly since Aquarius is regularly reminding the viewer of Clara’s history and position as a critic. Using the weapons of the powerful against them is something only a thinking person could do.

  • At once a refinement and a deepening of the social and stylistic preoccupations laid out so comprehensively in the critic-turned-director’s debut. Expansive yet focused, Aquarius confirms Mendonça’s commitment to Brazil’s Brazil’s middle-class populace – a caste otherwise underrepresented in international cinema – and asserts a newly evident skill for dramatic storytelling.

  • Mendonça uses the story as a means of addressing social issues in contemporary Brazil, but it’s also an engaging and deeply satisfying picture about the adjustments that come with aging, particularly the fear of being jostled out of place as the culture moves on. Braga gives a regal, imperious performance that’s sometime slightly over the top, but it’s impossible turn away from her: Whenever she tosses that dark, lustrous, magnificent mane of hair, she’s never less than magnetic.

  • This is a film in which an old woman will look at a nondescript wooden cabinet and remember the hot, hot sex she had atop it as a twentysomething. The quiet presentation of an old book can lead to an intense surge of feeling... At the center of this emotional maelstrom is the 65-year-old Braga, herself a living legend and bridge to the past. In a long film of many turns, her performance — weathered, proud, sensuous, fragile — captivates and brings us into her world.

  • Mendonça Filho's film is about the power and importance of memory, and he recognizes that music, more than objects, can provoke a sensory experience. And like the filmmaker's fascinating, if stolid, debut, Neighboring Sounds, Aquarius is a film for audiophiles: The opening scene... shows Clara and her friends hanging out in a car, blasting “Another One Bites the Dust,” and Mendonça Filho makes sure that the sound in that moment comes through as forcibly as it would if we were there.

  • Key to [Mendonça's] successful sidestepping of cliché is the casting of Sonia Braga, whose evident strength, intelligence and vitality are essential to the character of the embattled but stubborn Clara... The virtue of 'Aquarius' is that it never feels the need to sermonise: its ethical, political and psychological insights are carefully contained within a consistently compelling narrative that feels fluid, relevant and true.

  • The staggeringly accomplished debut feature by Brazilian critic-turned-director Kleber Mendonça Filho, Neighboring Sounds, announced the arrival of a remarkable new talent in international cinema. Clearly recognizable as the work of the same director, Mendonça’s equally assertive follow-up, Aquarius, establishes his authorial voice as well as his place as one of the most eloquent filmic commentators on the contemporary state of Brazilian society.

  • Sometimes shot in unobtrusively realist fashion, especially in the conversations, the film nevertheless opens up stylistically from time to time, making full useof the widescreen format – for example when the camera moves from events outdoors to pull back, passing over Clara dozing in her hammock, and pan across her flat, showing the interior's porousness to light and sound from the outside world.

  • A pretty good mix tape about things that stay. Sonia Braga deserves a lot of the praise she received, but I’d argue the film most essential element is the leisure but exact pace (140 minutes rarely moves this natural) because this is a movie about things, their ownership and the value time gives to them and it is on those moments that it stronger.

  • No matter what’s happening at any given moment (apart from the prologue), Braga is killing it. Clara’s tenderness and her ferocity are inextricable, and Braga miraculously succeeds in making the character an indomitable force of nature (to the point where you want to urge the rapacious real-estate villains to throw in the towel; they’re clearly outmatched) while simultaneously revealing how fragile and weary she can be.

  • As a whole Aquarius works as a subtle accumulation of such moments in Clara’s interactions with friends, family, and surroundings, and in this sense Braga’s soulful performance carries the day. Once in a while Filho lets the pace drag or else makes his points in a manner more sociological than dramatic (Diego’s corrupt political connections are spoken of yet never demonstrated), but in the end he has made a rich, resonant, and relevant film.

  • The story may sound somewhat conventional, but Mendonça Filho enriches “Aquarius” with Clara’s wicked sense of humor, flashbacks that are haunting and deeply personal and a certain, inexplicable simmering tension that makes this film feel anything but ordinary. No spoilers here, but the ending, while a little neat, is so perfectly righteous and unusual, coming off as even more absurd given the socially conditioned civility among its characters, that it feels just right.

  • At 144 minutes, Aquarius is a sprawl, even more so than the leisurely Neighboring Sounds, but the good kind, putting in the time to plausibly render the textures of different areas of a macrocosmic city.

  • A sensational Sonia Braga commands the screen in Kleber Mendonça Filho’s sophomore offering Aquarius, a film that takes its time to get where it’s going but ends up as a rich, stubborn attack on daily corruption in Brazil.

  • A film that is at once an up-to-the-minute study of Brazil’s class and economic tensions; a sensuous memory piece about the meanings we invest in places, objects, and music; and a lovingly tailored vehicle for the ever luminous Sonia Braga.

  • ...It’s a reminder that the history of cinema is also a history of male directors working with superb actresses, a truism borne out in “Aquarius,” from the Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho. Sonia Braga (“Kiss of the Spider Woman”) stars as a widow and retired music critic whose fight with some developers (they want to evict her) evolves into a stirring look at the intersection of class, history and memory.

  • Braga's powerful screen presence energizes Mendonça's otherwise meditative filmmaking, a style familiar to anyone who caught his first narrative feature, 2012's "Neighboring Sounds." ...Though Braga's performance sometimes outshines Mendonça's leisurely two-and-a-half hour narrative, in its better moments the two work in marvelous harmony.

  • More airy in tone than Filho’s ambitious Sounds, which played like a Brazilian Short Cuts with an avant-garde edge, Aquarius – whose title is taken from the name of Clara's building – may disappoint those who appreciated the experimental nature of the last film, as there are only a handful of moments here that head in that direction. Otherwise, this endearing old-age drama works best as an earnest and colorful character study, even if it hardly breaks new cinematic ground.

  • The film’s revelation of termite infestation, a metaphor for the crumbling infrastructure of capitalist development everywhere, is more direct and obvious than anything in Things to Come, more Zavattinian than the Rossellinian vision of a woman alone in Hansen-Løve’s character study.

  • Despite Sonia Braga’s fierce performance as a woman of unbreakable determination and proud refinement, this drama by the Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho quickly lapses into sentimental attitudinizing... friends rally around Clara for a rousing finish; in the meantime, the director’s self-evident sympathies leach the complexity out of the story. Only a brief scene of Clara’s conflict with her daughter (Maeve Jinkings) over the family fortune offers a hint of troubled waters.

  • It continues Mendonça Filho’s exploration of the social contours of his booming hometown, but the result is, on a formal level, much less innovative than his debut feature Neighbouring Sounds (2012), and the analysis of class contradictions in the former film is largely voided in Aquarius: after all, Clara herself is considerably wealthy, and, as a prologue set in the 1970s confirms, she comes from a privileged, old money background.

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