‘Clara Sola’— An Esoteric Exploration Of Repressed Sexuality: LFF Review

‘Clara Sola’— An Esoteric Exploration Of Repressed Sexuality: LFF Review

This film is being screened as part of the 2021 BFI London Film Festival and you can find all of our coverage of the festival here

Nathalie Álvarez Mesén’s debut feature embarks on a delicate exploration of religion’s hold over womanhood, virginity and social commodity.


From the hair on their body to the way they choose to navigate the world, there’s not much of a woman’s existence that isn’t open to scrutiny. Taking the shape of modern Costa Rican folklore, Clara Sola examines the complexities of unusual femininity in a way rarely seen on the big screen, leaving the ‘rose-tinted glasses’ effect purely to its visuals. Mesén shines a directorial spotlight on Latin American values that seamlessly resonate to the Western world, highlighting the damningly subtle effects of restrictive self-exploration. 

Clara (played by Wendy Chinchilla Araya) is 36, seeking solace from a world she can’t connect to through her bond to nature and its creatures. Convinced she physically embodies the Virgin Mary, her family keeps her confined to long dresses and healing those that appease them, intent on keeping her preserved in the way God wants her to be. With the arrival of a dashing new farmhand, Clara begins to break down the cultural barriers holding her back from embracing her dormant sexuality. 

It should be noted that Clara Sola isn’t a critique of Costa Rican culture. Religious importance and value to its community remains sacrosanct, while the Quinceañera sings as the pinnacle of Clara’s journey to self-realisation. Instead of pitting traditional and progressive cultures against each other, Nathalie Álvarez Mesén encourages questions and unspoken conversations whilst showcasing them both. It’s a beautifully intricate balancing act, resting firmly on the shoulders of a cast that effortlessly embodies a familiar yet dissociated family unit. 

The courage and conviction of the film’s narrative lies in the decision to frame it through the eyes of a socially non-conforming virgin that’s approaching her forties. The character of Clara toys with more social constructs than it’s probably aware of, exquisitely honing in on environmentally repressed sexuality in adulthood. It’s the kind of story that’s playing out, quietly, all across the world—but never gets spoken into life. The aging virgin is simultaneously viewed as a religious commodity and a societal burden, used as a tool to prolong the social status of others when all eyes are on who’s truly holier than thou. 

Instead of pitting traditional and progressive cultures against each other, Nathalie Álvarez Mesén encourages questions and unspoken conversations whilst showcasing them both.

Mesén’s cinematic dialogue plotting the blossoming peaks of female sexuality is delicious to watch. A stark juxtaposition between Clara’s stunted knowledge and the self-assured effervescence of niece Maria (Ana Julia Porras Espinoza) forms the backbone of the film’s rugged disparity in generation, circumstance and favouritism. Although a woman’s social value is not directly placed at the epicenter of Clara Sola, its gravitas is heavy in the subtext. Any viewer is allowed the opportunity to take away a reframed perspective on a multitude of meanings. Pretty clever, from a film that looks to be a whimsical, easy watch at first glance. 

Larger than life themes are being challenged here, by a small, unassuming film set in the tranquility of suburban South American. Amazingly, there’s a satisfying exploration of each of them. Mesén pulls no punches in her directorial feature debut, whether the focus lands on family hierarchy, chastity or bodily autonomy. There’s an answer to it all—or at the very least, a question to bat straight back into the eye of the audience.

The Verdict 

Clara Sola holds the voice of which a wider audience has been waiting to hear. Is the visual imagery slightly too on-the-nose? Very possibly. The motif of the white horse in particular is possibly the most predictable element in its 106 min runtime. Does it matter? Not enough. The breadth and brevity of Mesén’s craft makes for a touching love letter to the unspoken punches that continually plague womanhood. It’s an astounding feat, and certainly not one to be overlooked. 

Words by Jasmine Valentine

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