“Clara Sola,” from the first shot to the last, stays very close to Clara’s point of view. Clara’s consciousness is connected to the natural world, and its animals, greenery, and insects make up her primary and most important relationships. Cinematographer Sophie Winqvist makes this explicit in all kinds of ways, nature as a living breathing entity, but particularly in one extraordinary sequence where Clara escapes the stifling confines of her house at night, and lies at the foot of a gigantic twisted tree, the blue and black shadows making her indistinguishable from the night around her, surrounded by a swarm of green fireflies, blinking languidly through the blue. It’s a potent moment, rich with the symbolism of Clara’s submerged sexuality, aching to explode, but only allowing itself out in tiny portions, as tiny as those fireflies.
Clara is an original creation, and this is mostly due to Araya’s earthy physical performance. Araya had never done a film before (extraordinary, considering the result), but she is a dancer, and she approaches the role primarily in a physical way. It is through the body that Clara’s reality is told. Mesén wanted to cast a dancer, and initially envisioned Clara as a younger woman, but Araya was so captivating there was no other choice. Clara’s disability affects all of her movements: her walk is sturdy and yet strangely halting at points, her feet buckling out to the sides to compensate, her legs moving to adjust to the spine. The shapes her body makes are, at times, archetypal, grasping fingers and uplifted arms, etc., and yet Araya is always grounded in reality. She shows the strong will inside this cowed and dominated woman. Once she starts to feel her own power, once she starts to understand rebellion is possible, she can’t stop. (You can feel the influence of “Carrie” on “Clara Sola,” especially with its themes of toxic matriarchy and the terror of sexual maturity.) Araya is riveting and feral, especially in those moments when she starts to break free of her conditioning.
Clara’s sense of herself comes into stark clarity through her conversations with Santiago, who probably has no idea (at least at first) what he is unleashing in her. There’s a fascinating moment where he asks her what it was like to see the Virgin Mary. Clara has no attachment to that narrative. That narrative was invented by her mother as a way to cope with the shame of having a disabled daughter. Turn her into a magical mystical being, don’t allow her to get corrective surgery, God will bless us then. Clara says to Santiago in response to his question: “I can do whatever I feel like.” It’s a startling statement. She sounds proud, stubborn, sure of herself. Clara has worlds within her, vast spaces where no one can get to her, where she is free. A woman saying “I can do whatever I feel like” is threatening no matter the context, but in this one especially.
This is Mesén’s debut feature film, and it’s a powerful and intuitive piece of work. Working with mostly non-professional actors, she has created a fraught space of repression and sorrow where Clara—a woman of very few words—can let us know what life is like for her, what she sees, feels, and wants.
Now playing in limited theaters.