In this lovely film, we hear the waves and recognize the surf’s ebb and flow while the screen is still black. Then we are immerced in the life of Dona Clara in three parts. Beginning in circa 1970, Brazilian twenty-something couples party like Sandra Dee and Bobby Darren with cars circling in beach sand. Aerial views of hotels and motels lining the beach and Latin song-beats on car cassette tapes, all join in a haze of cigarette smoke and good cheer.
Suddenly we are at a family birthday party for 70-year-old firecracker Aunt Lucia. While the young celebrate her life, she can’t help but remember numerous sexual escapades in her youth. Age seems to blur the decades as she sweetly smiles. None of the singers and toasters would imagine her thoughts. Dona Clara’s house will hold Aunt Lucia’s legacy, a bureau of a few drawers to stash generational photos & treasures. Memories of what we lose and what we need not lose becomes an overarching theme.
We now follow Dona Clara , portrayed by the beautiful Sonia Braga. We learn of Clara’s children, her breast cancer, her friends, and her seventeen years of widowhood in snippets. Director and writer Kleber Mendonca Filho deliberately paces the daily activities of Dona Clara. Clara, a retired music critic, is beautifully captured by Braga. What Clara values and what Clara distains are given to us wrapped in a spirit of perseverance.
Sonia Braga, and her seasoned beauty, light up the screen. She has a ravishing way of running her fingers through her hair that we never tire of watching. She raises her chin to the chicanery of gentrification, and we root for her. At the film’s end we are so happy that we were allowed to slowly discover this tenacious, life-affirming woman by following her every move.
The storyline is the David-versus-Goliath-themed, venture-capitalist sort. Dona Clara can not be persuaded to sell her apartment for any sum. Her neighbors have all made out like bandits by releasing their leases to the architectural firm, who has big plans for “Aquarius”.
Dona Clara can not be moved by filthy lucre. My favorite line is when she spits , ” Your character is money”, at the CEO’s nephew. This same nephew tries fear, intimidation, bugs and filth to dissuade her from holding-out. Her former neighbors berate her as selfish since they do not see a penny until the building is totally vacated. The arguments with her children are respectful and firmly telling. We come to admire her steadfast beliefs in living willfully. Yes, this film’s could have been edited, but do we wish to edit life!
The Latin spirit is aglow with familiar respect, unabashed sexuality, and love of life. While Latin love songs envelop us, it is the British “Queen’s” song ” Another One Bites The Dust ” that captures the rebellious stubbornness of our sixtyish protagonist. In one admired scene, Clara’s rule-breaking is sanctioned by the beach lifeguards who caution her to “stay at the waist” for her daily dunk. A motorized dinghy rides up to protect her from the riptide. Her hammocked naps amid her books, music and ocean breezes open the way to Part 2, ” Clara’s Love”. You will remember her mumbled, ” off you go”.
Part 3 ” Clara’s Cancer” will not be disclosed, but I loved her: ” Son, come by more. Don’t just text. I like to hear your voice.” This resonates in all countries it seems!
There are a few awkward camera shots, but I loved this film. Be ready for mattress orgies, Bible study and termites.