CLARA SOLA (MIFF 2022) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

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An international co-production by Costa Rican-Swedish filmmaker Nathalie Álvarez Mesén, Clara Sola is set in an isolated region of Costa Rica and all dialogue is in Spanish. The film is thus, perhaps fittingly, both specific in its cultural and social detail (particularly in regards to religion), while also containing a rich aspect of universality regarding outsiders and the very human desire to be an insider – a part of their community.

The film follows Clara (Wendy Chinchilla Araya) who is 40-years-old, but in many ways has the mind of a child which stems from the way a birth defect in her spine allows her family and those close to her to shelter her and deny her womanhood. Accordingly, when a new attractive horse wrangler arrives to help the family with Clara’s beloved white horse, Yuca), very adult desires flood Clara as she attempts to come to terms with her sexuality. This is frequently to the horror of mortified family, her mother going as far as to dip Clara’s fingers in mashed chilli in an attempt to stop the woman from touching herself. Exploited by her family because of her supposed connection to the Virgin Mary and religious visions, Clara is strapped into a painful corset while her beautiful sister prepares for her birthday party – and Clara sees the difference.

Navigating her own identity and her place in her family, Clara Sola maps a woman’s journey of self-knowing. From the opening moments, cinematographer Sophie Winqvist captures what is to become a steady stream of shots that focus on Clara’s hands and fingers, with a conscious emphasis on touch; not just for Clara to touch things or extend her hands towards things just out of reach, but, perhaps just as importantly, to be touched. That Wendy Chinchilla Araya is a dancer as well as an actor comes as little surprise, her body telling her character’s story as much as dialogue and plot. Premiering at Cannes’ esteemed Directors Fortnight selection and Costa Rica’s nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, Clara Sola is a delicate, emotionally intelligent portrait of a woman finding her way in the world.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Clara Sola is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week selection for July 1, 2022

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi award-winning film critic from Melbourne, Australia. She was an editor at Senses of Cinema from 2015 to 2018, and is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic for ABC Radio in Australia, She has written for Film International, Diabolique Magazine, Vulture, Overland, The Big Issue and her own website, The Blue Lenses. She has written eight books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema and co-edited collections on Elaine May, Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, Peter Strickland, and Alice in Wonderland in film. She frequently contributes commentaries, liner notes and video essays to home entertainment releases from companies such as Arrow Video, Kino Lorber, Eureka Entertainment, Second Sight and Severin Films. She is a Research Fellow at RMIT University and an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).