A strong willed woman is often feared. But more often she is pushed to the tether of her patience, forced to bend down. While some look up to her, most detest her. In the “man’s world” that we live in, there are exceptional women we meet, who carve their niche, not as a woman, but as an individual and question the pre-fixed notion of this “man’s world”.
Women in our society vary from goddesses we worship to girls who are raped. Women become aunties as soon as they are married while men become sir. And this happens not just in India but everywhere in the world, including Brazil. This week my recommendation is a Brazillian-French film available on Netflix AQUARIUS.
Logline: Clara, a 65-year-old widow and retired music critic, was born into a wealthy and traditional family in Recife, Brazil. She is the last resident of the Aquarius, an original two-story building, built in the 1940s, in the upper-class, seaside Boa Viagem Avenue, Recife. All the neighboring apartments have already been acquired by a company which has other plans for that plot. Clara has pledged to only leave her place upon her death, and will engage in a cold war of sorts with the company. This tension both disturbs Clara and gives her that edge in her daily routine. It also gets her thinking about her loved ones, her past and her future.
The film starts with the film’s protagonist Clara celebrating her aunt Lucia’s 70th birthday at their apartment in the Aquarius building, in the 1980’s. Lucia has glimpses of her past life in that apartment and with a particular furniture — a chest — that is passed on in the family. Clara is seen celebrating with her husband, her children and siblings.
The film dissolves to 35 years later when we see Clara in the same apartment, living alone with her maid. She goes for her morning swim to the sea, gives interviews to journalists about changing music taste and if she thinks mp3 is cool, glancing over her huge collection of vinyl records and standing proud with one breast. It is established that Clara survived a breast cancer. Widowed for over 17 years now, Clara — or fondly called Dõna Clara — has lived her life by her own rules. She meets her children and grandchildren once in a while and has a colorful social life too.
The film accelerates when the audience is introduced to the greedy real estate developers, who have bought every single apartment in the building, except Clara’s, which she is hell bent against selling. In the course of the film we see Clara living alone in the ghost building without any remorse. The developers try everything to get Clara out of the building — threats, orgies and loud parties in the apartment close to hers, human feaces on the stairs. At a few points Clara does get paranoid leaving keys unattended and the nightmares that follow. But those fears fizzle out and her strength in character surfaces quickly. Clara is good character study and can be observed as a metaphor too.
The cinematography is bold and quirky, just like the character. There are zoom ins and zoom outs in single long shots. A lot of cinematography and sound create the visuals. Like, someone walking up and down the stairs behind closed doors or walls.
Writer-Director Kleber Mendonça Filho uses a lot of single long shots for the scenes, instead of cutting them to close ups and mid-wides, giving the audience a chance to completely indulge in the scene without any distractions. Like the scene where Clara is out with her girlfriends at a local pub having a good time or the scene where Clara’s children try to convince her to sell her apartment and move somewhere better. The contradicting fresh visuals of Brazil and the dark undercurrent of the film, keeps the narrative very edgy. Sonia Braga as Clara, is an absolute delight to watch. Her strength and vulnerability as a woman is very well portrayed.
The film was selected to compete for Palme d’or at the Cannes Film festival in 2016 and rates 97% on the Rotten Tomatoes. Aquarius was one of the top 10 foreign film picks for The Hollywood Reporter in 2016. Peter Bradshaw gave the film four out of five stars on Guardian.
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(Shweta Basu Prasad is a National Award-winning actress. Famed for Makdee, Iqbal and television show Chandra Nandini, Shweta is a graduate in mass media and journalism)