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'Clara Sola' writer takes character-building to a new level

July 20, 2022
Photo courtesy of Luxbox Films
4 min read time

Clara Sola is unlike most films you’ve seen about coming into one’s own. The titular character, Clara, played by dancer and first-time actress Wendy Chinchilla Araya has been dubbed a healing mystic, a child of Mary the Virgin herself by her tiny religious community in the Costa Rican rain forest.

The sick come to Clara to be healed. Clara’s caretaker mother Fresia refuses to heal her curvature of the spine, saying this is how God made her. Meanwhile, Clara’s young niece Maria (Ana Julia Porras Espinoza)  - perhaps the only one who has some understanding and genuine care for Clara - is discovering her own sexuality with a handsome young farm hand, Santiago (Daniel Castañeda Rincón). Santiago is one of the few who asks Clara her opinion or how she’s doing. This is enough to awaken something primal in Clara. Something that seems to call for her to want more out of life.

Ultimately, Clara has to become her own woman here. She longs for touch while watching telenovelas (and her niece indulging in carnal pleasures of love). And she yearns for freedom through her love of the family horse, Yuca, whom her mother is constantly threatening to sell.

 

Bringing Clara to life

Filmmaker Nathalie Álvarez Mesén worked for years to put the film together:It came from an exercise to get into film school. They gave us a picture, and it gave me something that inspired the character and the first scene that was born… both myself and Clara come from countries that are religious and Catholic. We grew up with a lot of women around us.”

With the rich Costa Rican setting, Mesén used mother nature as an additional character in the film:

"Everything that was not human we wanted to incorporate as a character. Animals, too. There’s the horse and the beetle. The horse looks kind of white from afar, but if you look closer it has so many nuances and colors in the fur. It’s foreshadowing, and kind of a mirror to Clara and how [her innocence] is used within the society."

 

Clara's layers unfurl

She continues, "Clara and the horse are always in service of others, but she does have this non-hierarchical relationship with the horse. They understand each other. Something has always been expected of her to do and to be, but with the horse, nothing is expected of her other than for her to be her, and there’s liberation in that.”

The strongest portrait of Clara's neurodivergence is when 'Clara' is reminiscent of the movie ‘Nell’ with Jodie Foster. It’s more subtle here and the physicality Araya embodies is impressive. Mesén also stressed that she wanted much of Clara’s portrayal to stem from the physical:

“I come from mime and physical theater and the actress is a dancer. We approached the character in that way. Clara doesn’t put a name on herself. She doesn’t put herself in a box of ‘I am this or I am that.' I didn’t want to do that either. Clara has a different language that you need to learn. A language that is more intuitive and in tune with nature."

Mesén continued on about some of the things she loves about Clara the most: “There’s a part to Clara that is very honest and says no when she doesn't want something, she doesn’t feel shame. That’s one of the most important things about the character because religion is so much based on shame. The movie is so much about choosing your own body and your own freedom. The end is just a journey to start choosing for herself.”

While religion is used as a tool of suppression in Clara’s life, she remains a spiritual person. Mesén spoke of some of the themes of religion she wanted to touch upon with Clara:

“There’s so many things I am very fond of within organized religion: the gatherings, the togetherness, the kindness. But so many aspects are also limiting and how they create internal borders. Clara literally has borders. She can only go so far, and she struggles to realize what are those borders? Why are they imposed? But I do think even very religious people can watch this film, and understand why she needed freedom. Clara also creates her own kind of spirituality throughout the movie. You don’t need the border to find that.”

 

Love thy script

After spending almost a decade working on Clara, Mesén has some advice for those trying to make a very niche movie or one considered outside of the mainstream:

“You need to be in love with whatever you are talking about. It’s so many years you are married to a theme, that you are developing it and then talking about it. It can also be very rewarding, but it needs to mean something to you.”

One of Clara’s gifts in the film is that she offers up secret names to people (not everyone, only people it seems that she likes and trusts). As her niece Maria says, it’s like Clara sees your authentic self.

Mesén elaborates: “I feel like I know my secret name, but I can’t put it into words. That’s Clara’s secret ability… I think everyone actually knows their secret name because that’s your true self.”

If you know your secret name, or you are still searching for it, Clara like her own name hints, may help you find the clarity you are looking for.

 

Clara Sola is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

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