Aquarius (2016)Aquarius (2016)
Festival Spotlight
25 July 2016

Music and Memory – Aquarius

There's an early scene in Kleber Mendonça Filho's second feature Aquarius that should be compulsory viewing for all budding journalists.

Clara, a former journalist herself, is being interviewed at home by someone from a national newspaper. Surrounded by records and books, the journalist asks Clara if 'material' possessions are what matters to her and whether digital platforms play a part in her life. She says they do but goes on to tell the story of a record she bought in a second hand store. On returning home, she discovered that inside the sleeve of the John and Yoko album was a newspaper clipping, an interview with Lennon about his future plans. It was published just weeks before he was killed outside his New York apartment. These things, the objects that can enrich, define and clutter our lives are important, Clara says. The journalist, ignorant of the subtext continues with her line of questioning about Clara's embrace of modern technologies and misses out on the chance to delve into her subject's past in order to understand why these 'things' matter. Filho, however, doesn't, and his film is gloriously rich and engrossing character study.

Music doesn't so much define a period or set a tone in Aquarius. It is a lively and passionate character. Recordings made decades before resonate, not just through their association with times past, but in the way they reach out to an individual, for whatever reason that may be, striking an emotional response that is at once personal and collective. Clara and her nephew's girlfriend bond on a song that might have different meanings for them both, but it forges a connection between the two. Songs are constantly being sung or danced to. Vinyl in particular plays an important role. On Clara's shelves it is an aesthetically pleasing sight. And like celluloid, it's flaws - the jumping of a needle like a missing frame in a film - make it all the more singular and appealing. Music is memory and the records, like the books and the very apartment Clara lives in are not part of her life but her life itself. So when a property developer begins to harass Clara in order to force her to sell her apartment, her actions come from self defence, as though she herself was being attacked.

Sonia Braga's Clara is defiance personified. Intelligent, boldly forthright, sassy and striking, she is unafraid to stand up for her beliefs, knowing that the development of her apartment block is emblematic of a society constantly wanting to do away with the past and replace it with a benign, colourless present. In Neighbouring Sounds (2012), Filho employed an entire street in his critique of Brazil's elite and their corrupt practices. Here, he focuses solely on Clara. This study of an older woman - a demographic of every society that some national cinemas seem pathologically fearful of - might draw comparisons to Sebastián Lelio's equally impressive Gloria (2013). That film focussed more on an older woman's relationships with men and her fear of loneliness. Clara does have an encounter with a man at a nightclub and puts in a late night call to an escort recommended by a friend. But she isn't lonely. Her life is not unfulfilled. For all the obstacles she - like all her friends - have faced, she is happy. But the developers threaten to undermine that happiness. Clara resents the idea that new is better, the past is best left there, 'things' are irrelevant and that change is always good.

Ian Haydn Smith

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