Recife is a large city by the coast in Brazil, home to both the very wealthy and the very poor, and music critic Clara (Sonia Braga) has made her home by the shore in an old nineteen-forties-era apartment for some decades now, indeed she plans live the rest of her life there. She has reached that stage at age sixty-five when she cannot help but look back on her time on Planet Earth and weigh up where she went right and where she went wrong; she certainly does not regret her devotion to music and her apartment is filled with vinyl and cassettes that she plays every day. She recalls her Aunt Lucia's seventieth back in 1980, and what she must have been thinking as her family celebrated her milestone, and begins to wonder...
Aquarius is a film that would mean a lot more to Brazilians than anyone else, and thanks to a powerhouse performance from local icon Braga, one of the most rounded readings of a character in any film from the twenty-tens, it seemed like a shoo-in for awards season at which many expected it to clean up. However, what an outside observer may not have twigged was that director Kleber Mendonça Filho was putting across a highly-charged political message to his fellow countrymen, a warning of how the corporations and developers were riding roughshod over their society all to ensure they would maximise their already substantial profits, and to Hell with anyone who sought to stand in their way.
Or even stand up for themselves against this onslaught of so-called civic improvement which according to this was seeing perfectly serviceable and habitable property demolished so that far more expensive buildings could be put up in their place. We have all heard the venerable tale of the little old lady who refuses to sell out her apartment when the developers move in after chasing away everyone else with promises of monetary compensation that would represent a pittance compared to how much the corporations would make if their projects went ahead, it happens in real life as well as fiction, so much so that Filho risked turning his production into a cliché, but it's not all about the story, it's how you tell it too.
As a result, Aquarius found itself blackballed by the Brazilian authorities and in effect lost out on its opportunity for, say, an Oscar nomination or two (Braga must have been a strong contender had things have worked out), and in its native land it turned into a cause celebre as Filho and his fellow filmmakers started using it as a support for their political messages against what they regarded as an oppressive government. Of course, once all this happens the benefits of the original work begin to be lost as it becomes an emblem rather than a piece of vital cinema, and it was true a non-Brazilian may watch this and wonder what the fuss was about since issues so local to this were not always going to translate to the worldwide audience. This was where Braga shone, for by keeping the indomitable Clara at the heart of the plot, she offered a way in.
What was densely packed with allusions to how this nation's life was lived grew more understandable because of the leading lady, since the injustice she faces when the developers attempt to force her out of her apartment as she is the sole remaining resident which is standing in their way to make even more moolah was something everyone could relate to. Oddly, Filho also chose to include a healthy (and at times unhealthy) sexual element, which was valid in fleshing out the needs and desires of Clara, but also extended to an orgy scene when the businessmen make life difficult for her by holding a disruptive and deafening party in the place above hers. This was not a sexploitation movie, but that he felt this was necessary spoke to a lapse of judgement as you imagine Aquarius could have been seen by a wider audience had he not put the lurid aspects in as well. Still, it was Braga's show, at least as far as the acting went, proving what many actresses her age do not often get to, that she was as vital as anyone taking the lead in a movie, more so in many cases.