In Cinemas

Clara Sola review – luscious story of a woman’s fury is a sensual delight

Swedish-Costa Rican director Nathalie Álvarez Mesén explores female desire and emancipation using non-professional actors

After its premiere at Cannes’ Directors Fortnight in 2021, Clara Sola became one of the most talked about debuts, touring the world festival circuit to rave reviews. With all this in mind, the Swedish-Costa Rican director Nathalie Álvarez Mesén has deservedly joined in the newly formed canon of regional female filmmakers, alongside names such as Paz Fábrega and Valentina Maurel. Even though festival audiences find themselves peculiarly mesmerised with the unflinching honesty vested in such unruly women protagonists, the general release of these works still remains a challenge for English-language distribution networks. The fact that Clara Sola still managed to make its way to London cinemas beyond festival exclusivity should be your first incentive to give it a go.

Álvarez Mesén puts her trust in two things: women and nature. Therefore, the decision to set this ambiguous tale in her native Costa Rica seems intuitive. The foggy outskirts of Vara Blanca, a town north of San José, are in themselves an idiosyncratic cosmos fashioned out of landscapes and fictitious borders: some geographical, others religious. Clara (Wendy Chinchilla Araya, in her first role) is the town healer, the power vested in her presumably by God also leaving her at the mercy of conservative values. At age 40, she is still looked after by her mother, who also refuses her a much-needed spinal surgery in the fear that her daughter might somehow lose her saintly “purity,” and she has a pronounced aversion to touch. At the decisive point when her white mare Yuca is about to be sold, Clara finds herself ready to evaluate what’s worth fighting for in a growing relationship to her own body.

Desire is mimetic and sexuality can find its fuel in the most unexpected of places. Clara Sola locates its kernel of yearning in jealousy and voyeurism as soon as its protagonist sets her eye on her niece Maria’s (Ana Julia Porras Espinoza) new boyfriend. The figure of Santiago as the only secondary male character in the film is, therefore, little more than a sketch of a character to drive Clara’s desire out of its hiding place. She sees his face everywhere, succumbing to ravenous daydreams which we never get to see, but feel; she knows where he lives based only on the number of houses one has to pass by to get there; this lust is primordial in its origin and ephemeral in its expressions.

The film is abundant with luscious, moist sequences of handheld mystique, whose life force imbue every second of it with inarticulate longing: to be one with nature. Lensed by DoP Sophie Winqvist Loggins (who also shot Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure), Clara Sola is invested in the horizontal relationship between humans, nature, and animals, all of which deserve attentive, affective close-ups and equally long takes. The haunting score by Ruben De Gheselle wraps up a seemingly impenetrable world, but one that is layered with the sounds of a world awakening as much as Clara is.

Director Álvarez Mesén makes room for ambiguity in the way she deals with interpersonal female relationships, hinting at the role of control, contempt, and envy inherited by the patriarchal order, which is then interiorised by the women themselves. Some of these issues, however, beg for more elaboration within the context of Clara being a largely unknowable but intuitive protagonist, and at times the audience is being asked to assume too much: about motherhood, about the destructive force of female desire. However, none of this can take away the inquisitive pleasure of submerging oneself in the elusive beauty of Clara’s world: a story of women’s fury told as a sensual delight one cannot say no to.

Clara Sola is released in UK cinemas and Curzon Home Cinema on November 18.

Where to watch

More Reviews...

Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes review – brilliantly tricksy Euro horror homage

Kevin Kopacka's meta-natured genre throwback, greatly atmospheric and narratively loose, is never quite what it appears

Lynch/Oz review – an act of film criticism that illuminates and invigorates

Alexandre O. Philippe’s approachable, insightful documentary delves into the director's canon through his love of The Wizard of Oz

Utama review – Bolivian drama of big themes and bold visuals

Alejandro Loayza Grisi's debut explores intergenerational conflict and climate emergency through the story of two elderly farmers

Strange World review – Disney Animation stumbles with a sluggish adventure

Some fantastic environment and creature designs aside, poor pacing and a lack of jokes will leave parents and kids mostly bored

Features

Starter Pack: A Guide to Noirvember

As the month-long celebration kicks off again, Steph Green offers a pathway into the most morally murky of all movie genres...

Goran Stolevski on You Won’t Be Alone: “The film is about witches, but it’s also about feelings!”

The Macedonian-Australian director's bewitching debut feature is a Balkan fairytale that grapples with identity and humanity. Fedor Tot talks to the filmmaker ahead of its UK release

10 Must-See Films at BFI London Film Festival 2022

As the latest edition of the festival returns to the capital, Ella Kemp highlights some of this year's most essential features

Every David Cronenberg Film, Ranked

To mark the release of Crimes of the Future, Steph Green sorts the body-obsessed auteur's vast filmography from worst to best...