“You can’t make a man treat you right, but you can make him wish he did.”

— Quoteling.com

In every family there is a woman, and usually she is the rock, the anchor. In “Aquarius,” writer/director Kleber Mendonça Filho gives us the great Sonia Braga as Dona Clara, the towering, resilient matriarch of a small Brazilian family of educated children who have grown up in tumultuous times and are now enjoying a comfortable existence in a new world, but one with shadowy rooms.

The film starts at a party many years before, with a young Dona Clara who has just recovered from breast cancer (Barbara Colen, who eerily resembles Braga), to celebrate the birthday of an aunt.

There are pieces of furniture here that trigger Dona Clara’s erotic memories of a turbulent but creative youth in Brazil, scenes that aroused even the censors in Brazil.

Then we’re back in the present in a calmer Rio, with an aging but still sensual Clara, who lives in a once grand apartment complex called “Aquarius.”

Clara, once a famous journalist and music critic, is surrounded here by hundreds of albums, paintings and photographs that fill in all the spaces in what little we know of Clara.

Here in her spacious condominium, comforted by her housekeeper and friend, Ladjane (Zoraide Coleto), Clara lives an enviable life of ease, where each day she walks down to the beach and swims. Life is good it seems, until one day it isn’t.

Here director Filho begins to lay in layers of strange dreams, touches of paranoia and a bit of political evil that still hangs over modern Brazil like a fog.

The core of the film soon bubbles up, and we see that a new company, headed up by an arrogant, entrepreneurial, American-educated man, has plans to tear down the old and build the “New Aquarius,” ultimately displacing Clara and fracturing her life.

One day Clara is visited by the young man, his father and grandfather, with sweet dreams of a 21st-century Aquarius, that we soon learn has no place for Clara. She elects to ignore their veiled threats and throws them out.

But we know it isn’t over. Strange and disturbing things begin to happen. Company workers appear and changes begin.

The workers move in above Clara, they have noisy drug and sex parties, and they drop lighted cigarette butts down onto her once pristine patio.

Clara, of course, hires an attorney and brings her children in to help her. But the law, as always, is on the side of the powerful. Still she fights on, threading her way through mysterious sounds in the night, a crew burning fetid mattresses in the garden, and a host of dark threats now come unveiled.

When two of the company’s workers, sorrowful and disenchanted by what they’ve seen happening, come and take Clara and her lawyer and children into the mysterious apartment upstairs, they’re confronted with a nightmare, one that must be seen to be believed.

Filho’s film is evocative of other cinematic voices and rooms, reminding us of the old days of Costa-Gavras’ political thrillers “Z” and “The Confession,” and we expect at any moment to see the great Jean Louis Trintignant peering around a bush.

There is much more to the film, of course, sometimes too much strolling on the beach, too many parties, meetings of too many people, where we just want to get back to Braga and the mystery.

All of that is obviously important to Filho, but 142 minutes seems excessive. All of the large cast blend and enrich, and Sotero and Tadeu’s camera work never intrudes.

Braga’s performance is stunning, heroic, a tour de force set apart from the family problems that weave in and out.

Certainly we remember her from our youthful movie days, “Dona Flora and Her Two Husbands” and the haunting, Golden Globe-winning “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Braga is monumental in her moments of indignation, breathing fire and staring daggers at opponents. She is an actor and a woman for the ages; she alone makes it worth seeing “Aquarius.”

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor and the author of “Will Write For Food.”