(2016, Kleber Mendonça Filho)
[Sydney Film Festival 2016]
Filho’s extraordinary follow up to NEIGHBOURING SOUNDS is an exquisite, formally inventive meditation on objects, places, and the memories we attach to them.
It begins with a memory belonging to Clara (Sonia Braga). Actually, a memory within a memory. It's the birthday party of Clara’s Aunt Lucia (Thaia Perez). She begins to daydream and the camera focuses on a cabinet in the room. It cutaways to a memory with the same cabinet. She is much younger in this memory and she is making love on top of the cabinet. She smiles in remembrance and its amusing because this occurs while her grandniece is making a sentimental speech about her. The innocent present commingling with the erotic past.
This prologue is the only flashback we see from Clara’s past and it beautifully sets up the story of a woman holding her ground against a tide of destruction for the sake of modernity. A sweet-talking property developer by the name of Diego (Humberto Carrao) negotiates with Clara for her to move out of the apartment, where she has lived and raised her family, to make way for condos. She refuses - this place is not just shelter for her; It is an archive of accumulated memories.
Her apartment is lined with shelves full of vinyl records (she is a retired music writer) and she dances playing these as she has probably done for decades. Music is home and she takes comfort in it. But when a loud party upstairs disrupts her quiet night (presumably an effort by the developers to get her to leave), she uses her vinyl records as refuge and weapon, playing Queen’s FAT BOTTOMED GIRLS to maximum volume.
The home is a container of memory and identity. We are where we live and what we hold dear. AQUARIUS shows how easily this security can be taken away. When Clara forgets to unlock her front door she tosses around in bed and imagines an intruder entering her home. Filo constructs this sequence with jarring cuts by mixing memory with imagined memories, and the present. Filho plants these moments of disquiet in the second half of the film when the fight against the developers begin to take their toll and reminding us that there's always a threat just outside the door.
Disturbance can also come from inside the home. While looking at photographs, Clara remembers a maid that used to work for the family before she stole jewellery and fled. While they’re talking about the old maid, they are oblivious to their current one listening in the kitchen nearby who then barges in with a photograph of her own son, showing each one of them as they remain in shameful silence.
There are these socio-political elements that Filho shows in a microcosmic level, highlighting the massive divide between the rich and poor in Brazil. It makes the audience extremely uncomfortable - and it should.
In a nightmarish and menacing sequence, Clara sees an apparition of the old maid, opening her closet and taking her possessions as she sits on her bed. I’m not sure if it’s fear on Sonia Braga’s face, or pity. I remember when I was a young boy in Manila, we had a housemaid and a nanny who I was fond of. Until, they too, stole important family possessions then fled. The whole family felt violated but I remember feeling immense pity. They lived in our house and became like family, until - maybe out of desperation - they did what they did.
Like in NEIGHBOURING SOUNDS, Filho captures the relationships between the people inside our home, just next door and out there in the greater community. He does this by capturing a sense of specificity, both of the central character and the place it’s set, but at the same time, remaining relevant beyond its walls and borders.