Clara Sola knows how to blend its grounded mysticism into a story filled with magical realism, but the movie often goes off the rails when it dismisses its heart-rending sensorial appeal.
Clara Sola follows a withdrawn 40-years-old woman, Clara (Wendy Chinchilla Araya), as she experiences a sexual and mystical awakening in a journey of self-discovery that contrasts with the religiously repressive conventions that have dominated her life. She lives with her mother (Flor María Vargas Chavez) and her teenage niece, Maria (Ana Julia Porras Espinoza), surrounded by nature and animals that she befriends, being them large or small. The familiar context says a lot about the character’s behavior; the mother is severe and religiously strict, constantly scolding her daughter at the sight of any sexual suggestion, while the young niece is sexually aware, independent, and regarded as a grown woman. The repression towards Clara leads her to act as stagnated as a child, with no self-control whatsoever whenever her family is around.
For these reasons, Clara Sola often feels like the coming-of-age story of a grown-up, but in a peculiar way. Even though Clara is in her 40s, her imminent sexual awakening is not approached with nostalgic backtracking or any rush for all the time she lost. Instead, it feels like everything is in the right place, at the right time. There’s one special dialogue between Clara and a young boy regarding touch-me-not plants that demonstrates that beautifully: the boy says “they are super slow, they take ages to open”, as Clara responds, “maybe it’s not so slow for them”. Clara doesn’t look back on the things she hasn’t done but eagerly welcomes change at the right time.
The movie did a great job at choosing its location, presenting us with a remote Costa Rican village, surrounded by green in a very foggy, soothing atmosphere. It’s the place where Clara can express her true self, while in her social life she either acts fairly contained or overly exaggerated. In her green safe place, she is able to express herself through the two most important things for her: the touch and nature’s stir. Her scenes with Yuca, her white mule, are filled with a mystical touch and ultimately showcase how Clara and nature are so in synch that it often offers the movie a welcome feeling of magical realism.
In the community, Clara is seen as a receptor of miracles, sort of a spiritual figure that can heal diseases and purify one’s soul, which leads her to be seen as different or rather odd, and her physical state shows a worn-down woman hiding from the life she deserves. No one inquires about her state, showcasing an upsetting aspect of religion: that of sacrifice. For them and her family, it’s perfectly fine that Clara looks so crestfallen and dismayed; she must bear that in exchange for beautiful powers, right? After all, heaven’s blessing will find her in the end… The movie is surprisingly subtle in the religious aspect, although it plays such a vital part in the story and pretty much crafts the outside image of Clara, often leaving her on the edge of anxiety. The spectator is lucky, though, as they are able to see another side of her, and as the narrative goes on, Clara begins to use the religious repression in her favor, to justify her own little protests.
I actually appreciate that the movie didn’t invest too much in the religious constraints or the family drama, as it’s really a film about Clara, solely (which refers to her “hidden” name, Sola). Not to say that the commentary on religion and the clash within the family isn’t explored, but Clara Sola is much more concerned with its whereabouts, the senses, and touch.
Talking of senses, the movie finds itself at its best when addressing the sensorial aspects of Clara’s desires, and how her sexual awakening feels like a flower blooming. It often reminded me of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s great film, The Double Life of Veronique, as the cinematography aims to capture what’s substantial, what’s touched and felt physically by the characters. Like when Clara asks a boy if he wants to practice kisses, it’s more than that; she wants to experience her own reaction to touch just like the touch-me-nots, she wants to be touched as she touches, just like the water feels on her skin as she floats in the nearby ponds. It’s vital for Clara’s search for intimacy as she breaks free of nature’s embrace for something more solid. In one scene she blends into the earth as a way to express the need for her object of desire. The awakening of her sexuality becomes more evident the closer she gets to nature.
It’s difficult to explain what exactly held me back from liking this film more, but while Clara’s connection to her surroundings and her pursuit of clarity was reasonably expressed, I had a hard time connecting to all of it myself. The movie doesn’t manage to put together Clara’s sexual impulses with the mysticism revolving around the character, as these two elements develop in parallel, and the mysticism is way more intriguing and elaborate than the sexual awakening. By the end, Clara gives in too much to her sexual instincts but it doesn’t really pay off in the overall narrative because those around her still seem to be unaffected. On the other hand, her mystical journey is so compelling because it actually feels as personal as it should be.
In sum, Clara Sola doesn’t progress beyond a character study of the protagonist, which is not a bad thing, although it certainly had the potential to go further. It opts for a pretty safe conclusion, even though the very ending is quite powerful; showcasing where religion and mysticism cross paths. As I said, the movie’s magical realism touch really stood out to me, but it was addressed only on the surface. Now, I couldn’t finish the review without mentioning Wendy Chinchilla Araya’s performance, which really ends up being the soul of the movie and the reason I felt so invested for the whole running time; I was completely sold by her work.
Clara Sola will be released in US theaters on July 1, 2022.
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