Nathalie Álvarez Mesén’s Clara Sola is an enchanting and mystical debut about a taciturn forty-year-old’s sexual awakening. Set in a remote village in Costa Rica, Clara (Wendy Chinchilla Araya in a piteous yet empowering performance) is a ‘healer’ revered by those in her village as a conduit for the Virgin Mary due to her profound connection to the natural world. However, such reverence has led to a repressed life for Clara, her mother Doña Fresia unwilling to allow her the (sexual) freedom she desires – her mother refuses Clara’s need for surgery, wishing instead to keep her as God gave her, while also forcing her to touch chillies to prevent her from masturbating.

Clara Sola' Review: Mesmerizing Costa Rican Tale of Sex and Mysticism -  Variety

The arrival of farm hand Santiago stirs something in Clara, as it does Clara’s niece Maria (Ana Julia Porras Espinoza) who begins a relationship with him. Despite initial tension derived from his treatment of Clara’s horse companion Yuco, with whom she shares a special bond, Clara is quickly enamoured by Santiago, portrayed with touchingly unassuming warmth by Daniel Castañeda Rincón. As the two grow closer, Santiago treats her with a kind compassion that others don’t – while Clara is increasingly drawn to him sexually, defying her mother more and more. While it is Maria’s quinceañera (the Latin American celebration of a girl’s transition to womanhood) that rounds out the film, it is there that Clara emerges from her cocoon of repression and soars, becoming the woman she has always wanted to be.

The film is beautifully shot by DoP Sophie Winqvist Loggins, immersing us in the gorgeous jungle with which Clara has such a bond that, through its focus on the minutiae of life, allows the viewer to see the natural world as Clara sees it. Though its languid pace won’t be for everyone, Clara Sola remains an affecting character study of a soul awakened to their innate and inherently natural sexuality and unshackled from religious repression.

★★★½

This review was written by Oli Gamble, member of the thatfilmbloguk team, American and Canadian Studies student, and co-host of the thatfilmbloguk podcast.