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Clara Sola — Young Critics Workshop

Clara Sola (Nathalie Álvarez Mesén, 2021)

Clara Sola, Costa Rican-Swedish director Nathalie Álvarez Mesén’s feature debut, has one moment that approaches its proposed liberation-by-transgression: Clara (Wendy Chinchilla Araya), a 36-year-old Virgin Mary—or so she’s advertised by her exploitative mother—preparing to be humiliated for the umpteenth time, is now at her niece’s quinceañera, where she grasps a half-eaten ear of corn and heads for the bathroom. Earlier in the film, Clara masturbates despite chili peppers smeared on her fingers; the theater crowd gasped and pointed at the corn—“No…she can’t…”

The rest of the movie is structured by Clara’s attempts to fuck Santiago (Daniel Castañeda Rincón), the handsome newcomer to her family’s tourism business, and thus tarnish her Virgin Mary reputation, slipping out from under her mother’s thumb. Throughout, she thrashes around in mud, causes a small earthquake, and touches herself in bedrooms, living rooms, trees. Such carnal material could suggest near-obscenity, but Mesén frames Araya so tightly and cuts from her so quickly that one sees less a full person performing these acts than a puppet miming them. Mesén prefers gargantuan bokeh to visible negative space, engineering movement via a shift in focus or a cut rather than by blocking. It’s ironic that she casts Araya, a professional dancer, as she is only given space to move throughout the CinemaScope-sized frame during brief interactions with her horse, Yuca, where she lilts gracefully around the frame.

The tension deflated in the theater as minutes passed, no corn in sight. Clara goes to the bathroom to apply lipstick, wrecks the quinceañera, thrusts herself on Santiago—here, surely, it must appear—but soon the credits fade in, corn either forgotten or elided too subtly to grasp. For this final time, the exciting, potentially liberatory material is skipped to keep Clara chained to her one-note existence.