Nathalie Álvarez Mesén – “Clara Sola”

For her first feature film, Nathalie Álvarez Mesén, the director of Costa Rican origin returned to the lands where she was born: they serve as the setting for a poignant story of female emancipation. Full of asperities, her film takes the viewer into a universe imbued with magical realism and retraces the tumultuous journey of an extraordinary heroine who “imposes [sa] luck and go to [son] risk. (1).

Out of the ordinary, Clara is from all points of view. Beneath her harsh exterior, this forty-year-old woman shelters the heart of a child through her infinite capacity for wonder. Suffering from an autistic syndrome and a congenital malformation that compresses her lungs, the heroine nevertheless radiates a wild beauty and a singular aura. From the first minutes of the film, Clara’s face appears in close-up: it strikes the viewer by its depth, by what it expresses of determination and pain.

The action takes place in the heart of a lush forest, in a remote village in Costa Rica. The character lives there with her niece Maria and her mother Fresia, who holds her in her thrall. The old woman exploits her daughter’s gifts during religious ceremonies where men and women come from afar, affected by the disease. Relegated with the animals, treated as a minor by those around her, Clara is the subject of permanent infantilization. But the arrival of Santiago in the region, come to take care of the mare Yuca, modifies the precarious family balance.

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Too rare are heroines of Clara Sola’s caliber in the cinema. Only the female characters filmed by Jane Campion could possibly compete with her, so much does the protagonist of Nathalie Álvarez Mesén’s first film resemble a being endowed with impulses. The heroine’s sensuality is perceived as threatening by those around her and disturbs Clara’s bigoted old mother as much as her young niece, a teenager in search of romance. The director thus tackles head-on the right of women to fully live out their desires and offers the viewer an unprecedented female portrait.

Far from presenting the character of Clara as a mute being, on the fringes of the world, the director shows her on the contrary as a permeable being, in osmosis with the universe. As such, Clara is reminiscent of the figure of an elf or a genie of the woods. Like a shaman, she maintains privileged links with beings and things. Nature speaks to her, and the heroine knows how to announce rain, warn of dangers, make fruits ripen… In one of the first shots of the film, we discover Clara’s fiery white mare. Immediately, this mare is given to be seen as a alter ego heroin, as a totem animal and an unchanging ally. Both lead an obstructed existence, and evolve in a space with narrowly delimited borders. Moreover, the fugue of one prefigures the liberation of the other. The same goes for the beetle baptized Ofir whom Clara tries to tame by recreating for him a mossy habitat on her bedside table: companion in misfortune of the heroine, he suggests Clara’s fascination for the most humble beings. , but also represents a double of the character, in that he embodies captivity before inviting him to take flight.

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Beyond the dazzling visual framework it constitutes, the landscape in which the heroine evolves takes on the features of a character in her own right. It is an entity with which Clara merges. Nature is regularly filmed at ground level and the camera makes us experience the texture of the ferns, feel the dew that permeates the plants, hear the murmur of the trees: all this world rustles and accompanies the character’s movements like a breath. This sensoriality culminates in one of the most beautiful sequences of the film: in order to be able to satisfy her sexual frustration without risking being repressed, Clara lies down between the roots of an immense and enveloping tree to masturbate there. Fireflies appear whirling, as if to celebrate the enjoyment finally achieved. In many shots, the framing further confirms the character’s intrinsic belonging to the world of nature: Clara is filmed there as a character watching domestic life from the outside. The windows then materialize a border between the limitless universe of the heroine and the “doll’s house” in which her niece Maria or her mother Fresia live. The ball sequence, the climax of the film’s tension, also brings in the natural elements in a spectacular way, once again confirming the sympathetic relationship that binds Clara to nature.

Clara Sola finally sees itself as a cinematographic variation around the fairy tale. Magic, miracles and spells permeate the film, populated by avatars of princesses or witches, with interchangeable masks. The director likes to multiply the references to “Cinderella” or “Sleeping Beauty” while shifting them. Unlike the young and vain Maria, Clara is not allowed to wear a nice dress to go dancing. Her mother, who in some ways looks like a stepmother, forces her to dress like a little girl, as if to try to stifle her natural sensuality. The motif of the lost, exchanged or replaced shoe comes up several times in the film, a parodic nod to the tales from which it comes. But if Clara is not allowed to dance during the ball, she nevertheless takes her revenge: the heroine twirls on the occasion of a splendid aquatic ballet, in a dreamlike sequence where the healing of one and the rebirth of the other. On another occasion, the one who sees herself imposing a life of martyrdom trades her crown of thorns for a crown of flowers, symbol of her coronation. In Clara Solathe marvelous thus counterbalances the oppressive atmosphere in which the heroine languishes, sketching out an optimistic horizon, beyond the cramped and superstitious environment in which the characters subsist.

(1) Rene Char, Hypnos sheets

Duration: 1h46

With: Ana Julia Porras Espinoza, Daniel Castañeda Rincón, Flor María Vargas Chaves, Wendy Chinchilla Araya

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Nathalie Álvarez Mesén – “Clara Sola”