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Sonia Braga's hair could teach a master class in acting.
The Brazilian star uses her raven-black mane to express passion, frustration and defiance all of which play out in "Aquarius," a drama where Braga commands center stage as a woman determined to live life on her own terms.
For Braga's character, Clara, her hair is a major part of her identity but when we first see Clara, in 1980 (and played by Barbara Colen), most of it isn't there. Clara, then in her early 30s, has recently endured a bout with breast cancer, which has left her with a pixie cut and a fierce attitude to live life fully with her husband, Adalbert (Daniel Porpino), and their three kids.
Move forward to the present, and Clara's hair has grown to her waist. She's 65 now, a widow living alone in the same apartment her family has owned for decades, facing the beach in Recife, Brazil. Clara, a retired music journalist, lives there with her voluminous record collection, which ranges from Gilberto Gil to Freddie Mercury. Her kids have grown up and moved away, and she spends her days swimming in the ocean and her nights either home drinking wine or going out dancing with friends.
Clara is the last tenant in her apartment building, The Aquarius. She's the lone holdout against a construction company that is buying up the other units. She encounters Diego (Humberto Carrão), the scion of the construction company's family owners, who has grand plans for the space once he can persuade Clara to move out. But she is stubborn and rejects his offer. So the psychological warfare mounts, with the construction company using some underhanded tactics to persuade Clara to leave.
Clara's battle with the construction company is only a part of her life, and writer-director Kleber Mendonça Filho captures that life in all its facets. Clara has her children, who visit from time to time. She has friends and relations, with whom she drinks and talks and laughs. She hangs out with her lady friends, rating the widowers and gray-haired Casanovas who populate the dance hall.
And she has her apartment, a setting Mendonça imbues with meaning and personality. A memory by Clara's aged aunt (Thaia Perez), for example, turns a cabinet into a sexual object and every time he pans across the room, the viewer smiles at the thought.
Braga gives the viewers many opportunities to smile. It's three decades since she wowed the world in "Kiss of the Spider Woman," and age has not diminished her grace. If anything, the years have sharpened her, made her more formidable and more intriguing.
And Braga has that beautiful hair, which she deploys tactically to denote Clara's many moods. She lets it down when she's relaxing with her family or showing her intention to a male suitor, and pulls it up into a tight bun to show she's ready to get to business or battle authority. That hair becomes Braga's talisman, her symbol of strength, as she carries the weight of "Aquarius" gracefully on her shoulders.
Sonia Braga gives a ferocious performance as a widow fighting to keep her home.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, Nov. 4.
Rating • Not rated, but probably R for strong sexuality, nudity and language.
Running time • 146 minutes; in Portuguese with subtitles.