Clara (Wendy Chinchilla Araya) is special. A conduit for nature’s mystical power, she finds meaning and solace in her relationship with animals, insects and plants. Though gifted and unusual, her family and community perceive Clara only as physically afflicted and simple-minded and unconditionally chaste, yet revere her for her ‘Virgin Mary-bestowed’ healing power. But when a new arrival stirs Clara’s sexuality to her village, a challenging force is awakened within her.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Nathalie Álvarez Mesén will have turned heads with her debut feature Clara Sola, for this is a picture that staggers you. Her film leaves you in a state of stunned silence. The clever use of religion, spirituality and nature intertwine to make a gloriously entrancing piece. However, what startles more than anything is that the entire cast of Clara Sola is full of non-actors. Led by the utterly sensational dancer, Wendy Chinchilla Araya, we have a group of actors who bring everything to their roles and convince you with the greatest of ease.
The mystery within Clara Sola grips you from beginning to end; just because Clara has had an encounter with the Virgin Mary, her mother refuses the treatment for Clare to be saved from her agonising curved spine condition. Even Clara’s niece (the terrific Ana Julia Porras Espinoza) confronts Fresia about it. How can she have her crooked teeth fixed for aesthetic reasons if Clara can not have such a horrible condition fixed as well? Fresia, of course, is nonplussed and sees the virtue of keeping her daughter as pure from humanity as possible. Yet, that restriction has obviously troubled Clara for some time.
The freedom that is allowed to Maria to flirt and do whatever she wants to do contradicts Clara’s life, a person who has been pent up and restricted for all of her 40 years on this planet. She is stifled intellectually and sexually. Fresia using chillies on Clara’s fingertips to stop her from masturbating disturbs you and allows Mesén to inspect the brutal relationship we have with religion and spirituality.
Fresia sees Clara as the Virgin Mary, a person who much not be touched from the outside world, needs to be clean and as pure as possible, with no alterations made by man. We see this from the hospital visit to even how Clara is dressed. Given no options and to look at how her mother and others feel, we see the anger and frustration build up within her. Yet, the more she sees outside of her mother’s world, the more she wants to try and enjoy it, even wearing a nice dress at Maria’s party. You can’t help but feel for Clara and hope she can break away, like a more poetic Carrie, Clara Sola.
Once Santiago arrives on the scene, Clara’s world is turned upside down; her sexual awakening is kicked into overdrive once the mysterious tour guide takes an inquisitive interest in her. In these moments, we learn more about her and you are enraptured by the story by Mesén and co-writer Maria Camila Arias. They feed us just enough information about Clara to feel a range of emotions for her as she goes through this journey. The confidence in the story helps elevate it from an already excellent film into something far more special than you could imagine.
As said, Wendy Chinchilla Araya is sensational here in this very physical role. The fact that her background is dancing allows her to move around as smoothly as she does. You buy that Clara has the spinal condition that she does just with how Araya holds herself. When it comes to acting while keeping that all together, you have to be impressed with her. With some hope, we will see more of her and others in this cast; they are just too good to be in a one and done situation.
Sophie Winsvist’s cinematography floats around with a dreamlike enchanted feel cementing the theme of how central nature is to us. Her camera never seems to settle as we watch the story, as if it is Clara, agitated and wanting to be free, so it roves about trying to figure itself out. It is beautiful work, with the gorgeous location being an extra character to the film.
Adding to the already stacked plaudits is Ruben De Gheselle’s hypnotic score that perfectly accompanies the visuals. There is so much good residing within Clara Sola that you would be kicking yourself if you missed it. So whenever you get the chance, make no mistake, this is a must-watch.
For more coverage of the 2021 London Film Festival, have a look below!
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