Finding treasure

Sônia Braga on Aquarius and working with Kleber Mendonça Filho.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Sônia Braga in Kleber Mendonça Filho's magical Aquarius
Sônia Braga in Kleber Mendonça Filho's magical Aquarius

Sônia Braga reflects on the magic of Aquarius, reading the script, Clara's hair, Bette Davis in Joseph L Mankiewicz's All About Eve, a Stanley Kubrick Barry Lyndon poster, cinematographer Fabricio Tadeu, costume designer Rita Azevedo, Neighboring Sounds, and working with her director/screenwriter Kleber Mendonça Filho.

Anne-Katrin Titze: The first chapter in Aquarius is called Clara's Hair. And the hair is actually very important throughout the entire film. And it's your hair that weaves the plot together. Can you talk about what it means to you?

Sônia Braga:
Sônia Braga: "Kleber is like an archeologist and a musician, a composer, at the same time." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Sônia Braga: That happened in a way magical as well. They wanted the hair down - and this is a preparation background thing and how it ended up being magical - it came down to a practical point of view for me. That I'd say, look, we don't have much time to do the movie and I'll be in every scene.

It'll be very complicated being at the beach or in the house even with the hair down. Because hair moves, and when hair moves it creates a problem technically for the lights, for the continuity. For everybody it means delays, five minutes, ten minutes. In the end of the day you have one hour delay because of the hair down. And when you light the face of an actor, the hair is in front it creates a shade and it's not good. May I touch you?

AKT: Yes. [She fixes my hair].

SB: For continuity, too. And I say, let's do something very practical. She's a practical woman. [Sônia puts up her own hair in lightening speed in two variations. Both look great] I can do this, one, two, three! And I put my clips. Or, just like this, Kleber. [She makes a knot in her hair.] "Right. That's great. Can you do that all the time?" And I say "Yeah, I can." And because the hair was so important, and the fact that it wasn't down all the time, it becomes as natural as we do at home.

Most of the time she is at home. It became like the work they did at the apartment, placing the records so carefully. You know, the movie set is so carefully done. We became part of the same group of people working on just one direction. We were all working like there was no ego. Everything needed to be thought out before to work for the movie. You have talked to Kleber?

Sônia Braga on meeting Fabricio Tadeu in Clara's apartment:
Sônia Braga on meeting Fabricio Tadeu in Clara's apartment: "Do you mind if I sit and do the light for you?"

AKT: Yes, I have.

SB: So you know how he is smart.

AKT: We met in 2012.

SB: Oh, my god. For the other movie [Neighboring Sounds]? So you know him, right? You know how smart and focused he is!

AKT: And precise.

SB: So precise. And I say about this movie [Aquarius], Kleber is like an archeologist and a musician, a composer, at the same time. Because he started digging like an archeologist, so deep and so many layers until he found a treasure. And at the same time, he composed the movie. Which is the best when you hear music - not the notes, but the silence. So he mixed the two things together to make, I believe, the magic that Clara and Aquarius is. It's something that you see and you say - is this music? What is it?

AKT: Or politics? Or architecture? Or poetry?

SB: He is an artist. It's something he proved before and he proved again. It wasn't an accident, that other film [Neighboring Sounds].

Sônia Braga:
Sônia Braga: "It'll be very complicated being at the beach or in the house even with the hair down."

AKT: One scene I want to talk to you about. The scene when Clara is going out with her girlfriends and she meets this guy. What happens in the car - I don't want to give anything away here.

SB: Yeah, I often beg people not to give things away! I'll tell you everything and then you filter as much as you want!

AKT: I was thinking while watching this scene - I even wrote down these two lines: What happened? What an asshole!

SB: But you know what? When I read that scene, I was very touched for him. I felt very sorry for him.

AKT: Really?

SB: And when we were doing the rehearsals, I say - something is happening to this man. Maybe his wife just died of cancer. Or he came for his daughter that is dying of cancer. I don't believe he just doesn't want to be with her, you know, and it is something deeper. Because everything that happens is not just happening in the scene. He leaves in a way that's suspense. Nobody gets angry to nobody. She says, better to take a cab so that we don't have … They just met so they don't have to talk about it.

Sônia Braga on Kleber Mendonça Filho with Anne-Katrin Titze:
Sônia Braga on Kleber Mendonça Filho with Anne-Katrin Titze: "So you know how he is smart." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: The way the scene ends is one of the many surprises. Many points in the film, I did not expect her to react the way she does. The painting, for example, of the house at that moment. The phone call she makes after she goes upstairs - I did not expect her to make that phone call. When you read the script, were you surprised by her actions?

SB: When I read the screenplay, and I keep repeating this, Clara is the screenplay, she is there. I did it but I was directed by Kleber who also wrote the screenplay. When I was reading the screenplay, nothing surprised me because I was reading the most incredible screenplay that I ever read. I'll tell you about one of the best screenplays, I think, ever. It's All About Eve. Everything makes sense. All the dialogues are so perfect, on target. Everything that comes out of Bette Davis's mouth is like wow!

AKT: What about Barry Lyndon [in Clara's apartment there is a huge poster of Barry Lyndon]?

SB: Barry Lyndon also. But Barry Lyndon you think about the movie, the cinematography that's so spectacular about that. All About Eve is much more about this woman. So Clara to me, when I was reading it, she was very close to me. I didn't react to her actions when I was reading it. I thought it was great, that it made sense.

Sônia Braga on being lit for the camera:
Sônia Braga on being lit for the camera: "So I sat there and I was seeing the house, what it was. The records."

AKT: It does. With the surprises, it doesn't mean that it doesn't make sense. That's the point.

SB: Exactly. It surprises you and you think, it makes sense. This woman would do that. To Clara, maybe, Barry Lyndon made more sense because she has a huge poster in her house.

AKT: That's why I brought it up.

SB: But to me as an actress, maybe, what makes sense more is something else that I based how a woman would understand a dialogue. That's very targeted to her, to Bette Davis. What Clara says made sense to me, to my deepest needs as a person, as a citizen.

All those words, all those acts - it could be the scene of the confrontation, it could be the scene with the maid, it could be all of them together - to me it made so much sense. When I was reading, I had to stop in the middle, it was so overwhelming. As soon as I finished, I wanted to do it right away. Ready. Let's roll this! Where are the cameras?

AKT: What about the house? How was it going to Aquarius for the first time?

Sônia Braga:
Sônia Braga: "When I read the screenplay, and I keep repeating this, Clara is the screenplay, she is there."

SB: Oh that was something! Kleber was into every little detail on this film, working with the art directors, about my wardrobe [Rita Azevedo]. I wasn't allowed to go to the house until it was ready. It was almost like kids working to give a gift to the mother.

AKT: You like to give gifts to each other!

SB: I do, actually, I do! I like wrapping! And then when I got to the set and they were doing a test for the lens for the camera. That was the first time I met the DP [Fabricio Tadeu]. And he just asked somebody to sit in front of the camera. You know, my love for cameras is ridiculous! And I say: "Do you mind? I'm Sônia." He, Fabricio, says "Hi Sônia, very nice to meet you." And I said "Do you mind if I sit and do the light for you?" He said: "Would you?" And I said, I'm dying to do this! So I sat there and I was seeing the house, what it was. The records.

AKT: Then you were allowed into the house?

SB: Allowed in the sense that they didn't want to open the house, especially to me, before it really was the house it was going to be.

AKT: Because so much of the film is the communication between you and the house.

Aquarius poster at the Film Society of Lincoln Center
Aquarius poster at the Film Society of Lincoln Center Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

SB: Yeah, you don't give to the kid for Christmas just half of a bike? Right?

AKT: No, you don't.

SB: They wanted the Christmas tree and the bicycle. We were rehearsing in another place. You know, we actors can have this imagination and place ourselves. But when we got there to see the ocean and everything was just spectacular.

AKT: The spirit of place comes seeping through the screen!

SB: There's a lot of details there, you know. My brother's drawing is there. On the top of the piano is one of my best friends with my mother. There's personal things in the movie set all over. Things Clara would have in the house because she had so many friends. Signatures, photos of her with the musicians, there's a lot of pictures on the refrigerator.

Every place in the house you go, I recognized everything. It is amazing the work, they did, we did, I say. I don't know if you went to other movie sets, but there's such a hierarchy. And on this all of us we are collaborators to make this piece.

Read what Sônia Braga had to say on her character in Aquarius, 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, and her red carpet tips.

Read what Kleber Mendonça Filho had to say on Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick in Alexander Payne's Election, John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy, Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann links, the madeleines, creating the perfect tactile version of a childhood memory, and Diego as the international evil in Aquarius.

And - Kleber Mendonça Filho on a changing world, shooting wide in Aquarius, and the loss of Museum of Modern Art Department of Film Curator Jytte Jensen.

Aquarius screens in the Glasgow Film Festival on February 25 at 5:45pm and February 26 at 10:45am - Glasgow Film Theatre.

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