Review: Clara Sola

Written and directed by Nathalie Álvarez Mesén, co-written by Maria Camila Arias, in a remote village in Costa Rica, Clara, a withdrawn 40-year-old woman, experiences a sexual and mystical awakening as she begins a journey to free herself from the repressive religious and social conventions which have dominated her life. Starring: Wendy Chinchilla Araya, Ana Julia Porras Espinoza, Daniel Castañeda Rincón, Flor María Vargas Chavez, Laura Román Arguedas, Fabrizzio Josue Vallecillo and María Belén Román Quesada.

While you might be expecting something dramatic or scandalous from Clara Sola, it refuses to bend to that whim. Nathalie Álvarez Mesén creates something which doesn’t go in for cheap plot devices, it moves in its own time and focuses on emotion over drama. The style is patient and has a poetic simplicity but also holds a great deal of complex emotions. A lot of this story goes unsaid but that doesn’t mean it isn’t clear. The cage which has been created for Clara forces her to fight against it, because in her family’s eyes she’s incapable and feeble, so they don’t allow her to try and be anything else. She’s then not able to express herself, to communicate clearly with her family what she wants, instead it’s interpreted as simple outbursts, and she’s treated as unruly. It’s more than easy to understand how frustrating this would be, when all she wants to do is have the same experiences as everyone else.

It’s a tricky thing to deal with sexuality in characters who have such a strong sense of naivety, but Mesén feels clearly aware of the line and while she approaches it, it’s never crossed. She builds the character of Clara with her direction, and the cinematography (by Sophie Winqvist), with the way that they view her surroundings and their colours. The aesthetic is extremely rich but unassuming, it doesn’t try to bring through a more artistic or overly modern style, it’s embracing an understated but highly textured visual. It’s surprisingly endearing and captivating, balancing out the slow pacing perfectly. It also has a superb eye for detail, especially with its lingering shots of different wildlife, particularly the insects which always attract Clara’s attention.

None of which would at all work without the brilliant performance from Wendy Chinchilla Araya. Araya brings such genuine, curious and resilient qualities to Clara, constantly being underestimated and ignored but finding solace in nature. She creates a strong connection to her surroundings, unconcerned with trivial matters, she instead has a compelling bond with nature, finding the beauty in everything. Daniel Castañeda Rincón holds a great deal of compassion in his performance, he provides someone for Clara to interact with who doesn’t make assumptions and is patient. It opens up a space for her to be herself, to explore her curiosities. While Flor María Vargas Chavez enforces that rigorous environment, forever pushing Clara back whenever she tries to move forward, refusing to let her have a better life when she’s already decided for her, who she will be. Lastly, Ana Julia Porras Espinoza offers the other side of naivety, in Maria’s youthfulness she struggles to balance her love for Clara with resentment of having to be responsible for her.

Clara Sola is surprisingly compelling and not just for its story but its rich and endearing aesthetic. Nathalie Álvarez Mesén explores this story in a patient, compassionate and earnest manner, little needs to actually be said to get across its message of understanding. It embraces nature to the fullest degree both in developing its characters and for all its visual delights. Wendy Chinchilla Araya gives a fantastic performance to build the heart of this film, expertly getting across the potential that hides behind Clara’s eyes and her fading forgiveness for being held back by her family.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

In UK cinemas & On Demand from November 18

In theatres from July 1st in NY & July 8th in LA

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