Young Critics Review: Clara Sola
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 theatre 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 theatre 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.
I’m Jack, I grew up in New York City, and I live in Los Angeles now. Movies didn’t play a huge role in my life until a few years ago. Instead, I bounced around a bunch of interests, studying literature in college and currently working at a video game studio. Writing seemed like a natural way to sort through my feelings once movies did begin to consume my life—recent favourites include Nick Ray, Tsui Hark—and now I hope to do it as much as I can.
There’s a moment at the end of Empire Records (Allan Moyle, 1995) that’s stuck with me since I watched it two years ago on a plane, where I’m always emotionally vulnerable. Renée Zellweger is singing on the roof of the record store, and the band points to her to sing a verse solo. She messes up, but then she closes her eyes and pumps her arms up and down in the most private, in-front-of-the-bathroom-mirror type of dance. It looks so uncool, but so assured, like she’s throwing away every nerve she’d built up over the movie. I saw it again when I watched Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939), when Jean Arthur sees the trick coin and drops her hesitations to run out into the rain. If you look close enough she even does a bit of the same arm pump. So that’s two moments, but also sort of one moment twice, a half-century apart.
Top three anticipated FFG Films
The Souvenir Part 2 (Joanna Hogg): I liked the first one a lot, and I think it shows some of Hogg’s wry humour to release a “part two” to a movie like it. Imagine if we had The Devil, Definitely or Ordet 2: Twice the Resurrections.
Memoria (Apichatpong Weerasethakul): Since it’s based on a sound, I think it’ll be great to see it together with an audience. Plus I adore Jeanne Balibar.
What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? (Alexandre Koberidze): This might be my only chance to see it in a theatre and it looks very lovely.