Review: Clara Sola
by Jan Lumholdt
- CANNES 2021: Nathalie Álvarez Mesén offers up a candid coming-of-age tale with strong doses of magical realism under an illuminating Nordic spotlight
Sweden’s presence in the Directors’ Fortnight of the Cannes International Film Festival has of late been international in scope, cases in point being 2019’s Georgian-set And Then We Danced [+see also:
interview: Levan Akin
interview: Levan Gelbakhiani
film profile] as well as this year’s Clara Sola [+see also:
interview: Nathalie Álvarez Mesén
film profile], taking place in Costa Rica. This global cinematic outlook has links quite a way back, to titles such as The Flute and the Arrow (1957, shot in India), Kongi’s Harvest (1970, Nigeria) and The Grass Is Singing (1980, Zimbabwe), all with Sweden on board as a major production country. Results have been varied but often interesting, and at times even striking in their execution.
More than most of them, Clara Sola reveals inspiration from both worlds. For her first fiction feature, following a number of acclaimed shorts, Stockholm-based Nathalie Álvarez Mesén ventures deep into the realms of her other home country. In a mountain village in the Costa Rican countryside, we encounter Clara, a somewhat aloof personality, clearly more at ease among plants and animals than among humans. It’s an appearance that responds well to her reputation as an elevated being, as she is believed to be in the neighbourhood, called upon as a healer by those in need of remedy and relief. Religious services filled with Catholic pageantry are performed regularly, with Clara being the designated centrepiece.
It’s also her sole task, it is furthermore dictated, in this predominantly female environment, headed by Clara’s matriarchal mother, Doña Fresia. “God gave her to me like this – she stays like this,” she firmly instructs a doctor who worriedly observes that Clara’s scoliosis-ridden spine is getting increasingly twisted and causing lung problems, something a reasonably easy operation could fix. Part of Clara’s predicament also lies somewhere within the autistic spectrum, yet another unresolved issue, nicely in keeping with her inviolable saint-like persona.
On the other side, both literally and figuratively, of the spectrum, we find Maria, Clara’s perky teenage niece, busily getting ready for womanhood and all its joys. It’s a trainthat Clara herself has missed, closing in on her forties with her “purity” intact. When Santiago, a young farmhand, reports for work, the juices start to flow and disruption abounds. Fed up and starved, Clara is ready for an overdue coming-of-age. Wendy Chinchilla, a professional dancer by day, gives her a carnivorous, animal-like quality which is highly unsaintly.
While a strong dose of magical realism feels apt in this habitat, a candid ray of Nordic light also makes its presence felt in Clara Sola, illuminating the proceedings and highlighting the movements of nature (of which Costa Rica has to have some of the most gorgeous in the world). Through Sophie Winqvist’s roving camera lens and the intuitive writing by Álvarez Mesén and Maria Camila Arias, it becomes a main character in itself and a true companion of Clara's – or true God, as it were.
Clara Sola was produced by Sweden’s HOBAB with co-production by Germany’s Laïdak Films, Belgium’s Need Productions, Costa Rican outfit Pacifica Grey and the USA’s Resolve Media. Its sales are overseen by Luxbox.
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