Learning to say no

Sônia Braga on Aquarius and surviving the red carpet.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Aquarius at The Paris Theatre in New York
Aquarius at The Paris Theatre in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The day after the US premiere at the New York Film Festival of Kleber Mendonça Filho's fiery Aquarius, Sônia Braga spoke with me up at Lincoln Center on the magic in the film, reading the script, Clara's hair, Bette Davis in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's All About Eve, Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, forming tribes and the influence her mother, Maria Braga Jaci Campos, had on her costumes when she starred with William Hurt and Raúl Juliá in Héctor Babenco's Kiss Of The Spider Woman. With the festival in full swing, Eugène Green, director of Son Of Joseph (Le Fils De Joseph) crossed our path, Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan slunk by and Kent Jones waved hello.

Sônia Braga:
Sônia Braga: "… when I read the screenplay, I went to another dimension where I found Clara." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Clara (Braga), a music critic, is the last remaining inhabitant of a seaside building named Aquarius. Developer Geraldo (Fernando Teixeira) and his mini-Trump grandson Diego (Humberto Carrão) want to get rid of her after they bought out all the others by using a variety of measures in an attempt to make her leave the "ghost building". Braga inhabits Clara with ferocious grace, with a face that registers all the falseness and deception surrounding her.

This is not a woman to be toyed with. The way the outside menace encroaches on her is nothing but masterfully staged. When you think you know how she is going to react, an entirely unexpected yet perfectly coherent decision pulls the rug out from under. Sex and religion in disturbing, organised incarnations and the crawling veins of a particularly damaging species from the Isoptera order are used to harass Clara and wear her down. A Barry Lyndon poster on the wall and the hammock by the window are her personal shield and anchor against a world running wild.

Sônia started our conversation by showing me her red carpet survival kit and a gift she had for Aquarius producer Emilie Lesclaux.

Anne-Katrin Titze: What's in the envelope?

Sônia Braga: What is in the envelope? It's a pretend Oscar. - No, it's not!

AKT: It's a bit flat for that.

Sônia Braga as Clara:
Sônia Braga as Clara: "The force looks like it comes from you."

SB: I'll tell you what it is. You know how we women suffer so much with the high-heeled shoes? Because that's not natural. And I really want to be a man when they say, "Would you like to go to a red carpet?" and they say, "Yes, give me five minutes. I'll take a shower and then we go." And with women, they say "You want to go to a red carpet?" And we go, "Oh, would you give me three months?" You have to find a dress, the perfect jewelry to go with it, shoes that don't hurt your feet and everything.

So, last night, our producer Emilie, we were having a cocktail after the whole thing, she was "Oh my god, I got to take off my shoes." And I said "You don't have any flats in your purse?" And she says "Look at my purse! It doesn't fit!" And I say, "But you know, there's some that you fold and you can put in your purse." I want to do the whole survival kit for women!

AKT: Sônia Braga's red carpet survival kit!

SB: For red carpets. Going to the movie theatre, where it's freezing, generally, with the hot packs that you open and warm your body. It's a survival kit for women. So, I was trying to find for Emilie, those things that fold. I have drawers with these things in my house, right? I was trying to find the ones I told her about but instead, I found these. [She unpacks the black satin foldable flats for me].

Sônia Braga red carpet survival kit:
Sônia Braga red carpet survival kit: "My mother made them… she was one of the best seamstresses in Brazil." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

My mother made them. My mother passed in 2001 and she was one of the best seamstresses in Brazil. She made my dress, she made all my clothing for Kiss Of The Spider Woman. [Sonia shows me the details of the slippers]. So she made this one.

AKT: These are beautiful.

SB: So when you are at a party and you are suffering, just take off your shoes to wear something to walk around. So I found two pairs.

AKT: Let me take a picture of these for the article.

SB: Yes!

AKT: It's also perfect for the film.

SB: I'll make a background. [She unfolds her burgundy scarf on the sofa between us and styles the slippers]. I do production!

AKT: We have to see this part. [I point to the sole]

SB: It looks like Japanese, centuries old … My mother made these for me. I have like the sole with the boots in crochet. Because I love this type of thing. And I found a brand new pair of these that I'm giving to Emilie as my gift to her.

AKT: That's almost better than an Oscar.

"Well. I've been talking a lot about my mother because of what Kleber says about Clara's character ..."

SB: Well. I've been talking a lot about my mother because of what Kleber says about Clara's character - that he brought his mother into Clara, and himself, actually, when he wrote Clara. When we met, when he gave it to me, there's this beautiful image that I figured the other day - when I read the screenplay, I went to another dimension where I found Clara. And we had this talk that we're going to be one. It's a good image, isn't it?

AKT: Good.

SB: I went to another dimension, really, a science fiction thing. Actress is reading script and goes to another dimension! So when I read that, we made an agreement that Kleber … Now this is new. You know these epic movies where some people come from here and the other tribe comes and meets this one and they go forward? That's a little bit what happened.

AKT: How Clara was born from two tribes?

SB: That's how powerful it is to me.

AKT: It is the perfect image. That it takes groups of people. Because she has so much strength. If I were in her situation, I would probably fold, and collapse, I was thinking while watching.

SB: You think you would? Even though you are right and everything?

"It looks like Japanese, centuries old …" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: I think I would move to another apartment.

SB: Do you have kids?

AKT: No.

SB: Me neither. So, we're from the group no kids. Because she [Clara] has kids. She's an academic. She comes from a place of society that I'm not from. I come from countryside people. My mother was a housewife. My father died. She became a seamstress. As a seamstress she worked so hard, she became one of the best.

And she started traveling with a group of gay people, going to France. Because it's not one woman meeting the other - it's all the ones that came before them. The formation of this group of tribes. And when we meet - the pragmatic world with the intuitive world, you know, they meet for one reason. When power is created, it's the word that is so simple - it's a "No". When you can say "No."

AKT: That strength needs the tribes?

SB: You need many kinds of support. You have to understand that this is behind you. The force looks like it comes from you. But you don't do anything by yourself, I think.

Coming up - Sônia Braga on the magic of Aquarius, reading the script, Clara's hair, Bette Davis in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's All About Eve, Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, and working with her director Kleber Mendonça Filho.

Read what Aquarius director Kleber Mendonça Filho had to say on his film and the loss of Jytte Jensen.

Aquarius is in cinemas in the US.

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