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Sunday, 12 June 2016

Sydney Film Festival (3) - Kleber Mendonca Filho's Aquarius (Brazil, 2016, 141 minutes)

Fresh from Cannes, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s Aquarius, immediately created a local audience dichotomy. Its evening screening reportedly tried people’s patience and apparently was received with polite applause at best. The next morning, the film was met with rapt attention and a quite thunderous ovation. When star Sonia Braga’s name and image appeared as the credits began to unfold there was an unusual fresh burst of applause. The audience Q&A which followed the second screening was full of statements that indicated that the film had touched both personal and political chords. In a city like Sydney where developers have been corrupting politicians and trades unions, and killing people who stood in their way, this is a film which hits targets. Its mise-en-scene however better serves as stories of family and friends, neighbours and acquaintances than the more obvious, almost universal story of venal developers and the rights of the common people.

No target is hit better than the young engineer who is in charge of the project to demolish a sea front building and put up twenty stories or so to match the rest of the over-developed landscape. He’s the subject of a speech delivered by Clara, the last resident of a block of flats slated for demolition as soon as she can be moved out and on. Clara's tirade at this smirking and arrogant passive-aggressive smartarse is a thing to of beauty and the audience is cheering her on.

She his quite content in this somewhat idyllic apartment, just across the street from a brilliant beach sharing the company of a lifeguard who supervises her entry into the water. She is after all in her late sixties and we’ve seen in a brief but slightly confusing intro, at least to me, where her young adult life was and that she was already then a cancer survivor. Sonia Braga is too and the audience is shown her post-op removed breast. And that’s not the only bit of very explicit naked human bodies shown on screen. That however is not where the heart of the film lies.

Though living alone apart from the daily visits of a femme de menage, Clara has a rich tapestry of relatives, friends and neighbours from whom she draws comfort, exasperation, advice, underhand assistance and great friendship. Nothing is better presented than the long walk along the beach from its wealthy part to, after a crossing an open sewer outlet, the section occupied by the poor of Recife. There lives the housekeeper and in a scene that sinuously tracks and cuts its way through a crowded outdoor terrace and movingly celebrates a birthday, you get a measure of Kleber Mendon ça Filho’s skills as teller of tales about family and friends.

Much to admire here. Perhaps not as grandly achieved as the director’s debut Neighbouring Sounds but still a film which had me enthralled.

No more screenings alas and no sign yet of a distribution deal for these parts.

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